Atlas Performing Arts Center: Sprenger

Remaining Performances (tickets available here):

Wednesday, July 15 at 6 p.m.
Friday, July 17 at 8:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 19 at noon
Saturday, July 25 at 4:45 p.m.

They say: Three families’ lives become entangled after Brandon, father of one of the families, dies. As the characters try to find stable footing in an unstable world, they collide. Amidst the damage, humanity and emotional destruction struggle to an unexpected draw.

Joshua’s take: Be suspicious of any work of art whose title is an adjective. That level of generality usually carries over to the work itself, as is the case with Thirsting Productions’ Interconnected, a sometimes diverting but utterly generic soap opera that asks the standard questions of daytime drama: Who has a dark secret? Who’s sleeping with whom? Who’s the baby’s father?

The script from writer-director team Brian Schwartz and Karen Snyder plays like a blank template for family drama. Its characters seem to live in a white, middle-class American noplace that wouldn’t be a compelling setting even if such places did still exist. The play’s central family, the O’Donnells, seem affluent at one moment (twentysomething son Aaron, played by Alexander Gheesling, frets about taking the GRE), short on social capital the next (uncle Ezra, played by Brian Shell, is a self-destructive drunk, but no one mentions rehab).

The O’Donnells and their extended family are still reeling from the death of pater familias Brandon, whose unseen presence is supposed to haunt the production. Unfortunately, all we learn about Brandon, aside from a late-play plot twist, is that he liked to fish. What kind of fisherman Brandon was would depend on whether he lived in Maine or Michigan or southeast Missouri, but those kinds of details are exactly what Interconnected sorely lacks.

The spare but strangely fussy production design doesn’t help matters. The set changes, often between relatively short scenes, get really tedious, especially given that the Sprenger Theatre offers plenty of space that goes mostly unused. Then there’s the fact the most of the actors, despite playing different generations of a tangled family tree, could all pass for college students. The only thing that distinguishes teenagers from fortysomethings is which pop music they use as their ringtone (which is actually pretty clever). This means that when mom Sarah (Amee Walden) comforts her grown son Aaron, the visual suggests that they’re gearing up for a make-out session. It’s genuinely confusing here, given that inter-generational and quasi-incestuous romance is a crucial part of the story.

Yet despite the play’s overall sense of vagueness, the cast is uniformly solid, bringing the glimmer of reality to their broadly-drawn characters. Particular standouts are Shell as perpetual loser Ezra and Sue Schaffel as world-weary waitress Ginger. Shell has the body language of an almost-functioning alcoholic down cold, and he gets both the play’s funniest and darkest moments: staggering onstage singing “Wonderwall” to great effect, then grimly lecturing his nephew: “You don’t know agony yet. But you will.” Schaffel, on the other hand, differentiates Ginger with a toughness and detachment no other character possess. When her semi-closeted teenage daughter Sam (Miranda Robbins) tries to provoke her by loudly declaring she’s off to have sex with her boyfriend, Schaffel deadpans, “Since when are you into boys?”

The show is peppered with sharp exchanges like these, both funny and believable, but it’s still just good dialogue in need of well-defined characters who belong to a substantial world. My guess is that these are supposed to be relatable, “ordinary” people, but it’s hard to relate to characters with no lives beyond the machinations of their well-worn plotlines. Schwartz and Snyder are young playwrights who clearly have talent. Now they need to figure out why the want to write plays in the first place.

See it if: Generic drama would be welcome relief from the fringe-iness of Fringe.

Skip it if: You can spot a soapy plot twist coming from a mile away.