Sometimes it's great to attend a show without knowing anything about it. That's often what happens when I see a show at Manhattan Theatre Club. I just know they produce great work that I usually am very pleased to witness. That's what I got at the opening night of Of Good Stock by Melissa Ross. One of the great elements of this show is that artistic director Lynne Meadow is at the helm and this family dramady is in great hands. The moment you walk into the theater and see the beautiful set by Santo Loquasto (that rotates to show multiple rooms and outdoors of the cape cod home), I knew I was in for a treat. I was instantly transported to one of my favorite places on earth: cape cod. And then the sisters in the Stockton family all start to arrive at the home of Fred and Jess and the true family drama starts to become clear. The type of family dynamics that Beth Henley or Wendy Wasserstein would write, Ross isn't afraid to show women that complain…and complain. What some may see as archetypes of oldest/middle/youngest in a family, others may see their own family in these sisters who tend to be self absorbed.
Jennifer Mudge is absolutely wonderful as the oldest sister, the fixer, the caretaker and the one dealing with her own health issues that are obviously an obstacle in her marriage. I have only seen her before in a musical and was completely blown away by the journey she took the audience on with her role. She is matched brilliantly by her husband played by Kelly AuCoin. Known for numerous TV shows, AuCoin is a real guys guy and the type of man you want as a best friend or a spouse. He tries hard to show his love for his wife by doing whatever he can to make her 41st birthday weekend as bearable as possible. He is no stranger to the Stockton sisters and knows each of their personalities well.
Heather Lind is great as the youngest sister who is still unsure what she wants in her life and has brought along her hysterical boyfriend Hunter (Nate Miller) to meet the family for the first time. Lind is so funny, natural, and I instantly loved her. Rounding out the family is the middle child Amy played by Alicia Silverstone known to many for the film Clueless. Amy is the self-obsessed, whiny sister who never feels anyone is paying enough attention to her impending wedding to the uptight Josh (Greg Keller). Keller gets some great lines in beforehis premature exit in the show. Silverstone's role is one she has played before, but ending up drunk on stage is always a hard thing for an actor to pull off. Luckily she not only pulls it off but gets a great breakthrough moment in act II with her sisters to shout F-Bombs for all their wrongs in the world.
Ross's story goes to places that perhaps we've seen before, but it was the direction and performances that kept me so engaged and feeling for the characters. The ensemble in this show all perform from a place of truth which is a great thing to witness on stage. Often times you can see actors 'acting' and in this case, you feel you are peering into the world of this family. Even how Meadows has directed her actors to speak over each other (as we all do in real life) - everything was grounded in realness which was refreshing. I was surprised when I felt tears in my eyes during a wonderful scene with husband and wife.
The story may be about sisters, but as an audience, we bring our own lives into theater. It was the 25 year relationship between Fred and Jess that truly spoke to me…and moved me as well. This is a limited run through July, so be sure and get your tickets for a very entertaining night. Bravo to this great cast and crew.