There are all kinds of laughs and “The Realization of Emily Linder” at the New Jersey Repertory Company gives us the best kind – the laughter of recognition.
We know these characters. We know them from our own families – with all of the usual tensions, rivalries and see-saw emotions. We know them because they are so deftly introduced. They draw themselves so clearly from the very start that we can’t help but keep recognizing them in their actions and interactions throughout the play. This gives us pause and makes us laugh out loud, along with everyone else in the audience.
Congratulations to NJ Rep on another world premiere. This theater in Long Branch has a remarkable record for introducing plays that go places. Well-conceived, well-written, well-directed, well-acted, well-staged, no one will be surprised if “The Realization of Emily Linder” extends that reputation.
Everything is set in motion when the mother, Emily, played with expertise and cunning by Marnie Andrews, makes an unusual request of her two daughters, Margaret (Dana Benningfield,) and Janice (Corey Tazmania). At first glance, the daughters could not seem to be more different. Because casting has chosen two women who physically resemble each other the way sisters often do, we see their differences — body language, clothing style, verbal attitude — as choices the sisters have made that express their inner character. They grew up in the same environment why such different approaches to everything? It’s a mystery we recognize from our own lives.
The entire play is about recognition and realization, where that second word means more than one thing. Among them, it means the sudden understanding of something about one’s self. The play unfolds the characters with incredible efficiency for our pleasure, amusement, and understanding. It is surprising what can be made with building blocks that are mere words.
The play is also about lack of recognition, about not being able to recognize what is there standing right in front of you, because of the blinders of preoccupation with yourself. Names keep coming up, a theme; naming is another kind of recognition. See if you don’t agree with me that the kindest, most telling words Emily speaks are these: “Because Margaret is Margaret and Janice is Janice.”
Margaret is the seemingly more sensitive of the two sisters, wife and mother and Janice the hard-edged lawyer, competent, worldly, proactive. Both Benningfield hand Tazmania are excellent in their roles. The fourth character is Jenny (Jenny Vallancourt), Emily’s hired caretaker who we meet sitting off to the side, reading a book. Suffice it to say that the reveal sometimes comes from an unexpected corner and Vallancourt manages her role expertly.
As always, SuZanne Barabas’ directing carries the day.
I hope I’ve told you enough to make you want to see it, but not so much that you feel you already know what happens – what I consider the role of a reviewer who truly wants you to have this experience.
The REALIZATION of EMILY LINDER
Written by: Richard Strand
Directed by: SuZanne Barabas
WITH: Marnie Andrews (Emily), Dana Benningfield (Margaret), Corey Tazmania (Janice), Jenny Vallancourt (Jennifer)
Scenic design & properties by Jessica Parks; lighting design by Jill Nagle; sound design by Merek Royce Press; costume design by Patricia E. Dougherty ; stage manager, Jennifer Tardibuono; technical director, Brian Snyder; assistant stage manager, Brooke Mayberry; assistant properties, Donna Stiles, production intern, Daniel Pino, executive producer (Gabor Barabas)
At New Jersey Repertory Company 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ through May 24. Thursdays, Fridays at 8pm; Saturdays at 3pm & 8pm; Sundays at 2pm and selected Sundays at 7pm. Tickets may be purchased by calling 732-229-3166 or visit www.njrep.org.