In life there are many uncertainties, yet one certainty that many people turn to is family. Something many people assume everyone has. However, in today’s society it is very common to have a dysfunctional or completely non-functioning family. The Echo Theater Company presents such a family in the World Premiere of Gary Lennon’s “A Family Thing”. The three Burns brothers maneuver their way through life the best they can, after being partially raised by a drug addicted hooker of a mother and a murderous father. Two of the three follow in the footsteps lain before them, Jim (Johnny Messner) is fresh out of jail and has it out for his boozing, snorting, hooker loving older brother Frank (Saverio Guerra) who let him down so many years before. Both brothers are at a complete loss as to what to do with the youngest brother Sean (Sean Wing) who is a homosexual with an African American boyfriend.
This racist, unconventional, abandoned “family” struggles through their reunion after years of not speaking. They are forced to face each others problems while finding that most of them stem from the same reason: a lack of understanding and a feeling of never really being loved. This play is vulgar, a bit slow paced at times and overall contains very strong subject matter. Dealing with homosexuality, drug, alcohol and sex addiction, the cobwebs of one’s past, the uneasiness of new relationships, the heartache of old ones and the reality of death. There is a lot of heavy material in this play that it guarantees to be a conversation starter.
This piece is brutal and it grabs you by the collar and makes you pay attention. In order to do this it needs the right actors, which Echo has. A bevy of young talent from the stage, small and big screens, these performers are no strangers to a daunting script. Wing brings heart and despair to the youngest brother Sean in his search for understanding life. His interactions with his new found life coach/boyfriend Joe (Darryl Stephens) are truthful and touching. Stephens is equally as impressive in his attempts at understanding his new attraction and the family he comes from. Messner is frightening and yet there is something about his portrayal of Jim that leaves the audience feeling that there is something more than meets the eye to the jail-hardened middle brother. Guerra is the weakest link of the three brothers with his portrayal of the drowning eldest, Frank. Though you feel the desperation thriving deep in his character, Guerra often swallows his lines and it is ultimately hard to understand most of what he says.
The direction of this play is only slightly flawed. Chris Fields has taken this huge new piece of work and has made it his own creation. Certain scenes drag on too long, and some could probably be cut altogether. However, there is a lot to be thought of when one sees this play. It has a great story and one that many people will find they relate to. There are many back stories and several story lines, which at times can be hard to follow but the true arc of the play is family or lack there of and that is something anyone can understand. So as long as you are not offended easily and you want to strike a few chords within you, then head down to Stage 52 and delve deep into the reality of “A Family Thing”.