Paul Dano and Peter Dinklage in Things We Want
(© Carol Rosegg)
Paul Dano and Peter Dinklage in Things We Want
(© Carol Rosegg)
In the early-to-mid-1990s, film and stage star Ethan Hawke was the artistic director of an enterprising young theater company called Malaparte, which included in its ranks playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, and actors Josh Hamilton and Peter Dinklage -- all of whom are reunited for The New Group's presentation of Sherman's engaging new play Things We Want at Theatre Row.

Well directed by Hawke, the piece concerns three brothers who are trying to find their way back to normalcy after both of their parents committed suicide -- several years apart -- by jumping out the window of the apartment in which they still live. Teddy (Hamilton), the oldest, works for a self-help guru named "Dr. Miracle," whom he idolizes. Sty (Dinklage), the middle brother, spends the entire first act drunk. Charles (Paul Dano), the youngest, returns home at the beginning of the play, having just dropped out of college following a breakup with his girlfriend.

To cheer him up, Sty invites over a pretty young woman named Stella (Zoe Kazan), whom he met at an AA Meeting and who lives in the brothers' building. By the time the second act begins, the fortunes of all three brothers have changed, while the already dark comedy grows even darker.

In the first act, Hamilton captures Teddy's smug superiority mixed with fraternal concern. He talks like a self-help infomercial, futilely attempting to convince Charles that in order to get the things we want in life, "you have to use your seven chakras and your five senses to figure out the right three words which reveal your one goal." However, the actor disappoints slightly in the second act. A scene he plays with Kazan's Stella should make the audience uneasy, but Hamilton doesn't radiate the kind of dangerous unpredictability required.

Dano is wonderful as Charles, demonstrating a wounded puppy vulnerability that is absolutely heart wrenching. Dinklage gets the bulk of the laughs as the drunken Charles; he effectively underplays the more outrageous things he says, making them even funnier. Kazan handles well the shifts in her character's intentions and desires.

Derek McLane's set is dominated by the large window from which the brothers' parents took their fatal plunges. The space looks well lived-in, and includes nice details such as a wheelchair which belonged to the brothers' mom, even though her suicide occurred several years earlier. Teddy, Sty, and Charles all have their own rooms, and there are several doors and entranceways included in the scenic design, allowing for a rather farce-like sequence in the first act that Hawke stages to comic effect.

Since McLane's set includes a ceiling, Jeff Croiter's lighting design necessarily utilizes a number of onstage light sources, as well as off-stage lighting from open doors and a front wash that provides a general illumination.

Sherman's dialogue has an offbeat sensibility and is peppered with amusing one-liners. He makes it clear that none of the brothers has actually dealt well with the grief and confusion caused by their losses. Hawke's production brings this out nicely, demonstrating the brothers' emotional damage that has resulted in self-destructive tendencies and a love-hate relationship that they feel towards one another.