Ana Reeder and Dan Snookin Killers and Other Family(Photo: Andrew French)
Ana Reeder and Dan Snook
in Killers and Other Family
(Photo: Andrew French)
What Lucy Thurber seems to be saying in Killers and Other Family, her perfectly dreadful and totally ludicrous 80-minute melodrama, is that you can take the girl out of the small town and--contrary to popular belief--you can also take the small town out of the girl. A second message she sends along, though she might not consciously intend to, is that love between lesbians is stronger than any infatuation that might rear up between heterosexuals. Yet a third pronouncement she could be intending to make is that, while men may be strong and potentially violent, women will eventually prevail in any battle of the sexes through sheer superiority of intellect and intuition.

Perhaps all of this is true and could be demonstrated in a stage piece. But none of it is validated in Thurber's frenzied and feeble offering, wherein four characters that bear little resemblance to persons living or dead pit themselves against one another. The strongest is Lizzie, who's uprooted herself from an apparently destructive home and come to New York to get a Ph.D., and thereby land herself a brighter tomorrow. Her hopes are threatened, however, when brother Jeff and her former boyfriend Danny show up unexpectedly. The pair of urban desperadoes is looking for money to finance an escape to Mexico, because Danny--in a stupor that recalls John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men--has murdered a hometown girl.

When the two of them arrive, all glowers and swagger, Lizzie is uncertain about how to handle the situation. One thing she does know is that she doesn't want her thesis--sitting in stacks on her rugless floor--to be disturbed. To get what she thinks is her way, she yells at, cajoles, taunts, and teases Danny and Jeff, wanting only that they get out of her city haven before roommate/girlfriend Claire returns. "I will take care of everything," Lizzie says to Jeff. It's one of those remarks in bad scripts that tells an audience she may get her way, but not until after much mayhem transpires--and after some sort of destruction is done to that innocent dissertation.

In the hullabaloo that ensues, Lizzie gives herself to Danny, Claire returns when Lizzie has slipped out to take $3000 from her bank account, Jeff takes a nap, Lizzie thinks she's lost control of the situation, Danny knocks Lizzie around and almost rapes Claire, Lizzie and Claire proclaim their love for each other and then temporarily lose sight of it. Eventually, Lizzie remembers how to subdue Danny and gets him and Jeff out of the apartment and her life once and for all.

In short, nothing credible takes place and no one behaves with any kind of consistency here. Audience members, confronted with the illogical carryings-on, can only ask themselves a series of obvious questions: Why does Lizzie, who seems surpassingly self-possessed, allow herself to be seduced so easily by Danny? Why doesn't Claire, presumably a sentient being, realize sooner that Danny and Jeff aren't playing with full decks? Why isn't anyone after Jeff and Danny? What is the import of the placating, fantastical tales Lizzie and Danny have been telling each other since childhood? Why doesn't Claire seize one of the many opportunities available to run out the front door and call the cops?

For what reason is the volatile Danny so readily mollified at play's end, other than playwright Thurber's need to reach final curtain? How come Jeff and Danny don't overhear what Lizzie is saying so loudly to Claire when they're standing just the other side of the kitchen pass-through? What is Lizzie's thesis about, anyway? Ostensibly it has something to do with "poverty," but what? Would Claire actually consider remaining with Lizzie after seeing how irrationally the poor dear handles her old pals and how generally labile she is in general? What kind of architect would put a large, bow-shaped window in a flat that looks out on an air shaft?

Maybe set designer Charles Kirby can answer the last query. After all, he rather cleverly imagined an apartment that doubles back on itself so the bedroom is on the other side of the air shaft from the living room, conveniently allowing characters to spy on each other. (At one point Jeff gets to watch Dan and Lizzie make lust.) Kirby and the other production team members do well enough by themselves. Sound designer Jason Mills is especially effective at making the source CDs convincing and at having Offenbach excerpts swell sensuously while Lizzie and Danny writhe on the red sofa.

The actors, under John Lawler's direction, are to be congratulated; they actually make it look as if they know what the characters they portray are doing and why. Ana Reeder as Lizzie and Dan Snook as Danny are asked to convey any number of incompatible emotions, and almost bring them off. Also, they both have beautiful chests, which they're required to show off as if there's some kind of redeeming social value to such strenuous disrobing. Jason Weinstein as Jeff and Tessa Auberjonois as Claire, both of whom get to keep larger items of clothing on, find ways to maintain their dignity while delivering lines that strain credulity till it pops.

Somewhere in the fracas orchestrated by Thurber--who won the 2000/2001 Manhattan Theatre Club Playwriting Fellowship but surely not for this number--Claire yells at Lizzie, "I don't believe this shit, and neither do you." No argument there.