When you become part of a couple, you gain your partner's friends and relatives in your life as well. For better or for worse.
In "Kin," a compelling world premiere by Bathsheba Doran that opened Monday night at Playwrights Horizons, this expanding web of relationships is examined primarily for the better, illuminated with humor and insight in a series of concise, effective, emotion-laden vignettes.
Poetry scholar Anna (coolly portrayed by Kristen Bush), who's writing her thesis on Keats' punctuation at Columbia University, and Sean (Patch Darragh), a warm-hearted Irish personal trainer who loves to cook, are first seen individually, each interacting with their own circle of family and friends.
As Anna and Sean meet and become a couple, the lives of their extended families begin to overlap in interesting ways. The production is inventively staged and perfectly cast by Sam Gold (a 2009 Obie Award-winner for another character-driven drama, "Circle Mirror Transformation," also at Playwrights Horizons).
Doran's dialogue is pointed and humorous, as the action moves swiftly over a decade, among multiple settings and wide-ranging geographic locations. In each vignette, characters make observations that are wise, funny, or sobering _ often, at times, all of that and more. Commonalities and heartbreaking secrets are revealed, clarifying issues about relationships and commitments, with these strangers gradually affecting one another in unexpected ways.
Suzanne Bertish nearly steals the show as Linda, Sean's reclusive, alcoholic, tart-humored mother in Ireland, emotionally damaged from an incident decades earlier.
Bill Buell is a comical delight as Linda's brother, Max, especially in a scene where he and Linda get drunk and drolly discuss their ungrateful adult children, and in another scene where Sean puts his winded but still nonstop-talking uncle through a hilarious treadmill session.
Laura Heisler is memorably funny and sympathetic as Helena, Anna's best friend and diametrical opposite. Heisler is ditzy, emotionally fragile and intense, with her childlike Helena constantly overthinking everything and oversharing.
Cotter Smith gives a poignant portrayal of Anna's widowed father, Adam, a military colonel now regretful that his top-secret work kept him absent from Anna's childhood. Kit Flanagan is lovely as his free-spirited but terminally-ill mistress, and Molly Ward and Matthew Rauch are effective as important ex-lovers of Sean and Anna.
Paul Steinberg's sleek scenic design is notable for a large, upright, open rectangle, rolled smoothly around by the cast and crew to form the basis of each new scene. Aided by Jane Cox's lighting and sound by Matt Tierney, the design elements combine to create distinct locations while contributing to a sense of underlying connectivity between the characters.
"Kin" is both entertaining and thoughtful, a satisfying emotional journey from start to finish. Don't miss this limited run only through April 3.