Owners

By David A. Rosenberg

Whether cutting his wrists, shooting himself -- and missing -- or falling from a fire escape and breaking only his leg not his head, Worsely is an inept would-be suicide. Nor is his self-esteem helped by working for the rapacious, helmet-haired Marion, a type who might eat piranhas for breakfast. But, then, self-esteem is what Marion has in spades in Caryl Churchill’s multi-scene, diffuse, biting, enervating “Owners” at Yale Rep.

Marion wants to empty the apartment house she owns, evicting Lisa, her fiance Alec (who used to be Marion’s lover) their children and Alec’s dying mum, in order to sell at a profit. She’d also like to own the couple’s newborn son. No wonder several people, including her butcher husband Clegg, would like to murder her.

Characters whirl about on turntables, immersed in the maelstrom of kill or be killed. Marion, a Margaret Thatcher clone, takes on destructive masculine traits with a mantra of “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” Alec, on the other hand, though titular head of his family, is laid back to the point of catatonia. (“The day goes by itself,” he says.)

Dating from 1972, “Owners” is Churchill’s first play, forerunner to “Serious Money,” “Top Girls,” “A Number” and the wonderful “Cloud Nine.” Her world divides between grasping capitalists and admirable socialists, between takers and the taken. Dealing with real estate as a metaphor for gaining possession not only of property but existences, Churchill paints an ugly picture of unlikable characters.

The evening is, despite Churchill’s ear for idiosyncratic dialogue, ersatz Joe Orton. “Owners,” lacking the madcap qualities of Orton’s “Loot” or “What the Butler Saw,” hovers somewhere between realism and the absurd.

Her characters soon wear out their welcome. It’s like being on a non-stop carousel where you keep passing the same point, longing to get off.

Amazonian in stature and demeanor, Brenda Meaney is quietly devastating as Marion. As Clegg, her cheatin’ husband, Anthony Cochrane hangs midway between compliant and crude. Sarah Manton is an appealing Lisa and Tommy Schrider an appropriately Zen-like Alec. Joby Earle and Alex Trow round out the excellent cast.

Director Evan Yionoulis puts as much oomph as she can into the evening, although her use of mannequins and tableaus are puzzling appendages. Anyway, can she help it if “Owners” finally fizzles?

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