Having spent some time the past several summers in a house on Cape Cod rented by my in-laws, I was looking forward to Melissa Ross’s new play, Of Good Stock, which takes place on the popular peninsula. Entering the theater at City Center, I could practically smell the fresh saltwater air as soon as I saw Santo Loquasto’s open stage of beach grass and dune. And once the play started and the revolving set rotated to that all-too-familiar, overly comfy style of Cape Cod house, and then two of the characters went out to pick up something from Marion’s Pie Shop in Chatham, well, it was like I’d been transported to Massachusetts, where I will not be going this summer. Fortunately, however — or, perhaps, unfortunately — I had little cathartic identification with the fictional Stockton clan, a dysfunctional family of three sisters and their significant others, that who did not remind me of any real people I know but instead felt like escapees from worlds created by Wendy Wasserstein (The Sisters Rosensweig), Tracy Letts (August: Osage County), Beth Henley (Crimes of the Heart), and, of course, Anton Chekhov (Three Sisters), among others. Oldest sister Jess (Jennifer Mudge), middle sister Amy (Alicia Silverstone), and youngest sister Celia (Heather Lind) arrive at the Cape Cod house where they spent their childhood summers, seeking to take stock of their lives. The daughters of the late famous writer and master philanderer Micah Stockton, they each have relationship and daddy issues. Jess, the stalwart leader of the group who is battling cancer, married the much older, very dependable Fred (Kelly AuCoin), who used to work for Micah. Amy, a flighty drama queen given to histrionics and whining, is engaged to the already henpecked Josh (Greg Keller) and is obsessed with planning their destination wedding in Tahiti. And neurotic free spirit Celia has brought a new beau, Hunter (Nate Miller), a hirsute thirtysomething hipster from Montana who has still not finished college. While the men basically sit back and watch, the three women rehash old stories, purposefully push one another’s buttons, and argue over just about everything. But their problems are nothing to the easygoing, up-front Hunter, who says, “I’ve got twelve siblings. No offense to you guys but y’all are amateurs.”
Mudge (Into the Woods, Reckless) and AuCoin (The Wayside Motor Inn, House of Cards) are an excellent team as Jess and Fred, the heart and soul of the play, keeping it from teetering over the edge, bringing empathy and depth to every situation. AuCoin is particularly effective in a terrific scene with Keller (Wit, The Who and the What) as Fred and Josh discuss “manly men things.” Lind (Turn: Washington’s Spies, The Merchant of Venice) and Miller (Love and Information, Peter and the Starcatcher) are fun to watch, she a whirling dervish of energy, he an easygoing, content dude who prefers the truth to secrets. Silverstone (Clueless, The Graduate) isn’t given a whole lot to do with Amy except annoy, complain, and rush off in tears, which grows tiresome rather quickly. Directed by Lynne Meadow, Of Good Stock can get a bit too manic depressive, and its characters and plot twists offer little new on family dysfunction. Ross, whose Nice Girl was recently warmly received at LCT3, favors overlapping dialogue that sometimes gets confusing, and the narrative too often heads toward sitcom territory. The play, which premiered earlier this year in a different production at South Coast Repertory in California, was a late substitute after Manhattan Theater Club announced that Richard Greenberg’s previously scheduled The Swing of the Sea was being postponed “in order to give these artists more time to work on the production of the play.” Of Good Stock could probably have benefited from more tweaking as well. But it’s still a nice place to visit, even if you wouldn’t want to live there.