Margaret Nichols, Richard Thieriot, and Darrie Lawrence
in Children
(© Stephen Kunken)
Margaret Nichols, Richard Thieriot, and Darrie Lawrence
in Children
(© Stephen Kunken)
Fans of the beloved and prolific A. R. Gurney will want to catch his rarely-seen play Children, now being presented by T.A.C.T. at The Beckett, but theatergoers hoping for more than lightweight dramatic fare might wisely choose to sit this one out.

The work is an adaptation of the superlative writer John Cheever's short story, "Goodbye, My Brother," and the notion of a Gurney-Cheever match-up is particularly intriguing because of their shared interest in the thinness of WASP veneer.

Unfortunately, there's only the merest hint of Cheever left in Gurney's version of the tale, which concerns a family reunion at which an estranged brother (based on Cheever's older brother Fred) shows up to unsatisfying results.

Here, Randy (the energetic Richard Thieriot) isn't pleasing mom Margaret (the convincing Darrie Lawrence) when he arrives with wife Jane (the adequate Lynn Wright) at the family's Massachusetts-coast summer house in 1970. (Brett J. Banakis' terrace with its expansive view will have observers drooling.) Also not a joy for the matriarch is the behavior of divorced daughter Barbara (Margaret Nichols), who's been slipping off to sleep with a former yardman whom Margaret outspokenly dislikes.

She reserves her primary contempt, though, for her other son, Pokey, who is never seen -- except when glimpsed partially for one late-in-play sequence (evidently impersonated by Thieriot). But it's his frequently described aloof attitude that Gurney lays in as indicative of the family's abiding discontent and which fuels the series of scenes taking place during the one busy day in the characters' charged get-together.

The major problem with the work, however, which has been directed efficiently by Scott Alan Evans and separated by Swingle Singersish musical interludes, is that it ends up playing like a series of under-nourished sketches.

Yes, Randy throws a few tantrums -- and one tennis racket -- underscoring Margaret's belief that she's spawned endlessly childish kids. Jane, wearing her intricate coming-out gown, balks at the annual club dance and at her generally unrewarding existence. And Barbara shouts her decision to marry her paramour (now a builder), only to have Margaret question whether the man's motives include a lust for the family property (a plot turn somewhat reminiscent of Lopakhin's real estate hunger in Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard).

Nevertheless, despite all the talk of Pokey's trouble-making and the activity of many unseen actual children, Children is far too quiet to raise a theatrical ruckus.