Gerry Bamman and Laura Esterman in Dawn
(© Joan Marcus)
Gerry Bamman and Laura Esterman in Dawn
(© Joan Marcus)
In Thomas Bradshaw's potent and disturbing new play, Dawn, now at the Flea Theate, an alcoholic works his way to sobriety, but as he reunites with his estranged family and sees things more clearly, he may wish that he stayed a drunkard. The work wrestles with a number of hot-button topics, and poses moral and ethical questions that would seem to be clear cut, but are surprisingly murky.

In the first half of the play, Hampton (Gerry Bamman) struggles with his alcoholism, going to great lengths to hide just how much he's drinking from his much younger wife, Susan (Irene Walsh). Director Jim Simpson stages these early scenes in a farcical manner, engendering laughs from the audience in addition to some disgust.

Hampton's son, Steven (Drew Hildebrand), is seemingly his salvation, bringing him to Alcoholics Anonymous. Although the play demonstrates how the AA process helps Hampton to become sober, it doesn't shy away from a critique of what Hampton views as an underlying religious fanaticism that informs some of the organization's basic principals. But this is no mere tale of a drunk going sober. Even as Hampton begins the process of reconciling with his ex-wife Nancy (Laura Esterman) and their angry daughter Laura (Kate Benson), more troubling situations arise in regards to Laura's 14-year-old daughter Crissy (Jenny Seastone Stern) and Steven's rather unsavory interest in her.

Bamman is consistently compelling and his non-verbal expressions in the early part of the play do much to lighten the mood of the piece, while his defeated body language in the last couple scenes add to Hampton's sense of loss and confusion. While she doesn't appear until late in the play, Esterman creates a nuanced portrayal that makes Nancy's reactions to Hampton's apologies and advances believable. Walsh's part is flatly written and fades to the background as the play shifts focus onto Hampton's extended family, but the actress does what she can to make the part memorable.

The excellent Hildebrand manages to be both charming and creepy, often at the same time. A scene in a laundry room where he uses Crissy's underwear for his own purposes elicited gasps of disbelief from my fellow audience members, as well as quite a bit of laughter. Benson doesn't bring many shades to Laura, but the play itself provides plenty of reasons for her to maintain her anger. Stern manages to convey Crissy's youth and intelligence, and while the girl may be a victim, she demonstrates that she's not exactly an innocent one. A scene between mother and daughter is one of the play's most fascinating, as Crissy provides a rationale for her behavior that is troubling precisely because it is presented with logic and reason.

In some respects, Dawn seems to parody the genre of the dysfunctional family drama. Several of the play's plot twists border on the melodramatic, and the conclusion crosses over the line. And yet, it's in earnest, as well. At various points, each character is given the choice between something bad and something even worse. They might try to justify their actions, but ultimately they have to make decisions that hurt themselves as well as those around them.