REVIEW: A Passionless “Kinship” @ Williamstown Theatre Festival [Berkshire on Stage]
Theater Review by Roseann Cane
Phèdre, Racine’s 17th-Century masterpiece, was a retelling of a Greek tragedy already examined many centuries before by Greek and Roman writers. What made this retelling so striking is the focus on the title character, previously portrayed as a monstrously evil woman. Racine’s Phèdre is a psychologically complex character whose obsession drives her to commit terrible acts, but this time she is more human than monster, and though she causes great suffering she is also a victim trapped in her own obsessions.
Playwright Carey Perloff was inspired to write Kinship in 2009, when she was directing Phèdre at Ontario’s Stratford Festival. “I was really trying to understand the nature of obsession,” she has said. “I love obsession, but it’s really strange. It’s not rational: it feeds on itself, so you need more, and more, and more of that drug to keep you feeling alive, even though you know it’s destructive. When it turns out that Hippolytus [Phèdre’s stepson] is in love with someone else, Phèdre becomes a monster, and decides she’s going…to take them down.”
In Kinship – currently being presented at the Williamstown Festival Festival’s Nikos Stage – the story is told through three characters, She (Cynthia Nixon), Friend/His Mother (Penny Fuller) and He (Chris Lowell). She is a driven, powerful middle-aged woman living a life many would envy. A successful newspaper editor, she has a devoted husband and two children she clearly adores.