Saturday, April 19, 2008

New York, Spring 2008 -- Day Four, "From Up Here"

I have a hard time imagining myself ever getting enough of Julie White. After her Tony-winning turn in "The Little Dog Laughed" and her guest spot as a highly-neurotic Hollywood producer in Alan Ball's HBO series "Six Feet Under," I'm ready to RSVP to any party she wants to invite me to. Even "From Up Here," the new, rather strident play at Manhattan Theater Club.

Briefly, "From Up Here" is the story of several very wounded people trying to figure out how to heal each other. It's just that some of the character's approach to healing (especially the aforementioned Miss White's character, Grace) has all the delicacy of a medieval barber bleeding his patients to let the ill humours escape.

Grace is the mother of Kenny, the most wounded (though in some ways the most sane) of this bunch. Through a series of clues dropped during the first 20 minutes or so, we learn that Kenny had threatened Columbine-like violence at his high school, and is now being mainstreamed back into the school. (A plot point that stretches credibility nearly to the breaking point for me.) We first meet Kenny on his first morning heading back to school.

Along the way, Kenny's little sister Lauren learns she has a suitor, a senior with a deep crush on her, which he expresses through a non-stop verbosity that he interrupts only to sing the twisted but sincere songs he has written for her. Grace's sister, Caroline turns up at the family home unannounced, returning from trekking in Nepal.

The show has some serious problems, but I found it oddly compelling, not least because of Julie White. No one's really happy, but no one wants to give up on the hope of one day being happy, either. So they all struggle and stumble their way toward some stable place from which to build a life. As the play opens, Aunt Caroline is at the end of her rope -- literally, hanging from a harness while on a Himalayan climb. By the time curtain falls, she's traveling once again, but at least this time we see her with her feet planted firmly on the ground. I'm not sure Grace or Kenny can say the same.

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