NEW YORK – The Animal Kingdom by Ruby Thomas at the Connelly Theater
The Animal Kingdom, by Ruby Thomas, now at the Connelly Theatre, is a pressure cooker of a play that glides by in a flash. Sam (Uly Schlesinger) has recently tried to kill himself and is now in an institution of some sort for his own safety and may be a place where he might find some surcease.
His parents, Tim (David Cromer), the owner of a turnaround fund, and Rita (Tasha Lawrence), a birth doula, are at once willing to share these therapy sessions and at sea when it comes to helping their son. Sophia (Lily McInerny) is the younger sister who has been more or less overlooked because she seems strong and stable, but she is a still water running deeper than anyone knows. Daniel (Calvin Leon Smith) is the therapist whose job it is to herd these cats into something that might be considered a cohesive family. This is difficult not only because of the recent event but also because Tim and Rita are divorced. Tim has a new wife and daughter.
Like they say: “It’s complicated.”
The brilliance of this piece starts with Ruby Thomas’s writing. She approaches this family much like a zoologist might approach a small, rare creature, with a soft glove on one hand and a pair of tweezers in the other. Not because dissection is intended, but rather a lifting of wings or legs and a look-see at the underparts. Thomas is a Brit, and it shows. Her economy of words is a lesson in how much a writer can leave out and still get the job done.
It does not hurt to have a crackerjack cast, beginning with David Cromer, who somehow has found time to direct “A Prayer for The French Republic” at Manhattan Theatre Club and rehearse and perform in “Animal Kingdom.” I suppose it helps that Cromer has the least to say, but that does not mean he is not listening. For Cromer, silence is not waiting for the other person to stop talking; it is active listening. So active that you can measure the emotional temperature in the room by keeping an eye on his meticulous performance.
The rest of the cast is mighty fine as well. Each therapy session reveals cracks in their respective armor that soon become holes that will never be closed again. Under the direction of Jack Serio, every character finds moments in the spotlight to wax eloquent or make a fool of themselves or all the variables in between. Calvin Leon Smith is masterful in the role of adjudicator as he delivers a steady flow of questions without pressure or judgment. He is our ambassador in this foreign land.
So deft is the writing that we glide back and forth between the characters like a spider building a web. We don’t know we have become part of the fabric by our listening until the play floats into its home harbor and it is time to disembark.
We leave the theatre richer than when we entered.
The Animal Kingdom by Ruby Thomas
Produced and directed by Jack Serio
WITH David Cromer, Tasha Lawrence, Lily McInerny, Uly Schlesinger, and Calvin Leon Smith
Scenic Design Wilson Chin, Costume Design Ricky Reynoso, Lighting Design Stacey DeRosier, Sound Design Christopher Darbassie
This limited engagement through February 10 consists of 16 performances for 50 people a night. Tickets are now on sale HERE . At the Connelly Theater Upstairs (220 E 4th St.)
Readers may also enjoy our reviews of There’s A Little Starch Left at Don’t Tell Mama, Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, Encores! Once Upon a Mattress, Ibsen’s Ghost, Women on Fire: Fair is Foul, and The Days of Wine and Roses.