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‘Blameless’: Journeys of grief

By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review

Despite wonderful casting and Gaye Taylor Upchurch’s sensitive direction, the world premiere of Nick Gandiello’s family drama, “The Blameless,” seems somehow under-cooked.

Developed in part in a reading at the Old Globe’s Powers New Voices Festival last year, the piece, which concerns grieving and forgiveness, continues at the White Theatre through March 26.

No two people, even in a family as close as the Garcias, and maybe especially in a family this close, grieve in the same way and at the same pace.

It’s been only a year since the Garcias’ shining-hope son died in gun violence at school. Now, as a step towards “healing,” the father of the perpetrator (Drew Davis, played by Stephen Barker Turner) has been invited to dinner.

The cast of “The Blameless” (Photo by Jim Cox)

From where she stands in her grieving, the family’s teenage daughter, Theresa (Nataysha Rey), feels coerced into greeting the man she holds responsible for her brother’s death and when the play begins, she has acted out, preempting the school prop room for a sexual interlude with two male classmates, one her boyfriend, Howard (Amara James Aja).

In the first, funniest and best written scene, Theresa’s mother, Diana (Antoinette La Vecchia), brings Theresa home from school, grounds her, and takes away all her social media, a tablet and cellphone, leaving her with no means to contact Howard on whom she depends, especially in the last year, for comfort and understanding.

The dad, Alex Garcia (excellent Broadway, television and film actor Frank Pando), arrives home from his apparently lucrative job as a property rehab specialist. Theresa is terrified that he will find out about her sexual misbehavior and be furious.

(l to r) Antoinette LaVecchia (as Diana Garcia) and Frank Pando (as Alex Garcia) in the world premiere of “The Blameless,” at The Old Globe. (Photo by Jim Cox)

Way beyond anger, Alex is in a common stage of grieving; emotional inertia. He merely goes through the motions of being alive and heaves to the current activity (in this case, cooking), hoping no one will notice he’s not there.

He and Diana argue bitterly, as seems their longtime wont. The arrival of Alex’s wise, truth-teller sister, Amanda (Liza Colon-Zayas), seems to tease the tension as she begins to help with dinner prep.

What ensues is demanding of the audience, at risk of being exhausted by the constant exploration of emotions and issues in the space of a mere 90 minutes with no interval, hearing each aria-like viewpoint from family members and Mr. Davis, who certainly grieves his own loss. Telling revelations are made regarding both sons and their relationships to family.

(l to r) Nataysha Rey (as Theresa Garcia), Liza Colón-Zayas (as Amanda Garcia), and Pando. (Photo by Jim Cox)

Among contemporary plays that address differences in grieving and the way it can sunder families, is David Lindsay-Abaire’s excellent “Rabbit Hole,” in which parents seek peace through confronting the teenage boy who caused their son’s death in a traffic accident.

When all the Garcia stories have been told, playwright Gandiello, seeming to have exhausted mere words, gives the players tacit departures and then provides the audience an unnecessary glimpse of the future.

Acceptance and forgiveness need not be spelled out. There is no resolution or healing from the death of a child. It’s a lifelong process of learning to live with it.

The playwright’s ending feels like a cop-out, but there’s still time for Gandiello. He’s got a terrific set of believable, flawed and funny characters. All that’s needed is for him to trust them and get out of their way.

— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenecriticism.blogspot.com or reach her at charb81@gmail.com.

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