Phillips is absolutely, undeniably brilliant as a mental patient trying to cope with the murder of her son, her family's idiosyncrasies and antipathy, and her own bleak but not utterly hopeless future.
"I don't want to have a spoiled life because my son was shot to death," says Claire, seemingly numb with a mixture of grief and slivers of hope and reason, early in the play. "I was a good mother. Overqualified. A master's degree in elementary education. I knew to teach phonics...Mothers are often responsible for their child's death...I would never...I was so careful...overprotective."
And if Family Week, which opened Off-Broadway at the Century Center for the Performing Arts on April 10 (and will close Sunday, April 16 after being savaged by the New York critics), had been Henley's first play, or even one of her early works, one might hail the playwright as the brilliant new heir to the thrones of Tennessee Williams or Eugene O'Neill.
But coming nearly 20 years after Crimes of the Heart, her 1981 Broadway debut, one leaves the ornate jewel box interior of the Century longing for Henley to finish and give more structure to the writing she so richly began in Family Week. Indeed, while Family Week is sprinkled with some of the poetic strengths and black humor that first propelled her to importance, the play is almost totally devoid of dramatic punch.
For example, there's little if any hint as to why Claire's son was murdered, execution-style, with a bullet to the head. Yet Claire relates she can physically taste the metal from the shot and hopes to find "something to make this metallic taste disappear."
Still, a lot of Henley's spontaneity, the unique color and emotional range of her characters, and her always-keen sense of humor which first surfaced in Crimes of the Heart, can be found alive and well in Family Week, suggesting the perhaps half a loaf of Henley bread is better than none.