Kith and Kin

Kith and Kin
a Kate West review
by Oliver Hailey
directed by Matt Kelley
at the Hudson Guild Theatre, 6539 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood
(corner of Santa Monica and Hudson)
contact (323) 960-7753
playing November 12 – December 18, 2004, Thurs, Fri, Sat. 8pm, Sunday 7pm

There is no dysfunction quite like southern family dysfunction. Oliver Hailey’s West Coast premiere of “Kith and Kin” at the Hudson Guild Theatre paints a picture of a disharmonious white trash clan. Drawn together by the death of their parents, one after the other, three brothers, Tommy Joe, Darryl and Big Boots, mercilessly brawl and torture each other into a state of semi-understanding. Thrown into the mix are two long-suffering women, Sarah, a surly pregnant widow and Charlene, a hardened four-time divorcee vamp. Each redneck is more socially repugnant that the next, ruthlessly competing in a twisted family feud of hilarious inappropriateness.

Tommy Joe (winsomely played by Nathan Brooks Burgess) is at first glance the most sympathetic. Enamored of classical music, he philosophizes and attempts to fight hysteria with reason. Yet he falls short of his potential. In one example, he longingly pretends to play the piano, but never actually learns it, although clearly devoted to the musical art and determined to teach it to his nephew Little Boots (whom we never see), giving him a more sophisticated route of escape from his roots. Though unseen, the child is pivotally important to each character in different ways. He represents everyone’s future and each character wants to manipulate it to suit his/her own needs.

Meanwhile, Big Boots (Drake Simpson), recently out of jail, is torn between escaping his responsibilities as a dad and embracing a new family. After murdering his wife for cheating on him, he may not be the ideal father figure but prison has seemingly refined him and softened his overall perceptions and prejudices. The middle brother, Darryl (Jeff Kerr McGivney), proudly renowned for introducing his two brothers to sodomy, and used to being the one in charge, is in the end reduced to pathetically depending on everyone else.

Sarah (played by Dawn Burgess, a saucy Toni Collette look-alike), is the closest thing to a mother figure the boys have. Never receiving affection from their own parents, they cannot appreciate Sarah’s loyalty as a housekeeper, who feeds them and holds a torch for Tommy Joe. Though fertile, she apparently drove her husband to suicide. Charlene (the deliciously sexy Kara Greenberg) sleeps with each brother periodically but never loves anyone. Thus the women are equally as toxic and flawed as the men and the actual actresses are a bit stronger than the men.

Matt Kelley (in his Los Angeles directorial debut), skillfully guides his actors into relatively strong performances. Despite some early nervous line flubs on opening night, it is more or less a sold ensemble, each actor taking turns to outrage, insult and entertain. In the end, each character is redeemed after confronting personal demons but this is no happily-ever kind of story. Life doesn’t work that way. It’s just life in Texas, folks. So no one gets what they think they want but all are able to ultimately live with their choices, having been forced into maturity. So if you have the stomach to dirty yourself a little on the wrong side of the tracks for a while, by all means go have a look-see. It’s not for everyone.

“There but for the grace of God go [I].” [John Bradford] After all, we are all a few degrees away from primitiveness ourselves.

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