Here’s an endorsement that might not sound like one: for a play about three upper-class, narcissistic WASPs alternately moaning about their medical, financial, and relationship problems, Melissa Ross’ Of Good Stock isn’t all that bad.
Jess (Jennifer Mudge), Amy (Alicia Silverstone), and Celia (Heather Lind) are the daughters of Mick Stockton, a literary giant and intermittent parent whose death left them with a potpourri of neuroses and hangups. Jess, the eldest, is currently undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer and, at forty-one, has just barely outlived her mother. Her husband, the food journalist Fred (Kelly AuCoin), used to work as Mick’s assistant and has spent much of his life trying to become a legitimate member of the Stockton family. Amy, the middle child, suffers from what she calls “Bride Brain,” which apparently means she is oblivious that her fiancé Josh (Greg Keller) is one bad moment away from bolting. Amy is constantly saying things like, “Don’t you dare smoke cigarettes”—which is somehow more grating than just saying, “Don’t you dare smoke”—and her sisters have largely learned to ignore her clockwork tearful outbursts. Celia, the youngest, a conventionally unconventional rebel, is introducing a boyfriend to the family for the first time: Hunter (Nate Miller), a genial but underwhelming Midwesterner who has a penchant for good food and unfiltered conversation. Over a weekend in Cape Cod, the group does what any cast of characters do in a contemporary American drama: they drink, make nasty comments about each other, and begin to come to terms with their problems.
Of Good Stock plays like something manufactured by a team of MFAs, from its witty and well-educated dialogue to its punning and ironic title—the Stocktons, in fact, consider themselves to be haunted by their heritage, even if it allows them, in a moment of abandon, to guiltlessly pour a bottle of two thousand dollar Scotch into the Cape. When Jess says, after her sisters begin screaming out into the night, “Fuck Dad! Fuck Fred! Fuck Josh! Fuck Cancer!” that she is “trapped in a bad chick flick,” her diagnosis doesn’t make the dialogue any less painful.
Still, Ms. Ross’ script manages to charm despite its flimsy center, as when each family member inevitably brings up that Amy—”as a grown adult person”—had a wedding for her cats, or when Jess defends her pedantry over Celia’s use of “guttural” by saying of the word, “Like mermaids and leprechauns and irregardless, it doesn’t exist.” Most importantly, though, the cast feels comfortable, as if this family reunion were not their first, as if they genuinely know and love and dislike each other. As for the outsiders, Mr. Keller has a nice deer-in-the-headlights expression for most of his time onstage, while Mr. Miller manages a pleasant sincerity without reducing Hunter to the punchline he seems to be for the rest of the family.
There is nothing new about Of Good Stock, and there are moments that make you wish more playwrights would break free from the paralyzing influence of Albee and O’Neill. Nevertheless, the combination of the performances and the often endearing dialogue saves it from pure mediocrity. There are certainly worse plays you could spend two hours with.