There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Love conquers all in Nicky Silver’s Beautiful Child, and it’s a bloody conquest indeed: An awkward if oddly beatific art teacher turns up seeking refuge at the well-appointed home of his feuding, Albee-esque parents, and once he’s explained what he’s running from, the play swings from cutting comedy to epic tragedy, complete with an abrupt, self-conscious shocker of an ending that might have been served up by Sophocles after a long night at the Dionysia. The trouble with Isaac—stop here if you’d like to dwell on the sacrificial symbolism of the name, or if you’d rather remain in the dark about the play’s earliest surprise—is that his new lover, he of the pale hair and the gray eyes, is one of Isaac’s 8-year-old art students. And the trouble with Beautiful Child has to do with its insistence that Isaac is something other than a monster: “I want to understand,” his grieved father groans; “You want to judge,” is Isaac’s, and the play’s, reply. We’re squarely in territory previously grazed bare by The Goat, with an upper-middle-class family confronting one member’s contention that his out-of-bounds passion has a reality and a dignity that makes its impossibility genuinely tragic. But while Silver’s language is as baroque and as beautiful as ever, he gives none of his characters the depth that could make it possible to mourn for them. And the Didactic Theatre Company’s budgetarily challenged staging does the play no favors: Kristen Cornwall and her cast haven’t figured out how to play Silver’s acid-tinged domestic comedy without pushing it over into noisy parody, and Katie Keogh’s slapdash, rummage-sale set makes Isaac’s family home look like some dire basement hovel rather than the privileged playground the play’s dynamic requires. Karen Novack makes rather too much of the father’s mistress’s naive eccentricities, though Cecil Baldwin, Steve Beall, and Glee Murray do manage some genuinely affecting moments in the play’s quieter middle stretches, and Maya Lynne Robinson adds spark as a surprisingly combative shrink. But Beautiful Child’s rushed conclusion feels wildly unearned, as unconvincing as Silver’s suggestion that the severe sanctuary Isaac’s parents eventually offer might bring an uneasy kind of peace to all of them.—