Curse of the Starving Class

The Story about That Eagle

First, the set breaks in half.

When we take our seats for Sam Shepard’s Curse of the Starving Class, we see a large kitchen, stuffed with pots and pans and dishes and rags in a way that is uncharacteristically verisimilitudinous—I felt as if I could walk onstage and start cooking breakfast; and indeed, it turns out that the stove really works and eventually bacon will be cooked, its scent reaching our noses.  But when the lights dim, the top half of the kitchen separates from the bottom, a rent courtesy of scenic designer Julian Crouch that sends all those pots and pans crashing down; it’s an elegant metaphor but also a sonic attack, one that sets us on edge and prepares us for what is to come: a domestic drama with a flair for surrealist flourishes.

Ella (Maggie Siff) is wife to the drunken, unemployed Weston (David Warshofsky) and mother to Wesley (Gilles Geary), who is good with animals but also pisses on the floor like an animal.   She’s exhausted and ready to get out and has made a deal with a lawyer (Andrew Rothenberg) to sell their house.  Though her daughter, Emma (Lizzy Declement), keeps threatening to leave, both she and Wesley are devastated at the thought of losing their home.  Ella suggests spending the money on a trip to Europe.  “It’d be the same as it is here,” says Emma, “we’d all be the same people.”  At times, the characters seem to be in a trance, as when they look into the refrigerator, over and over again, hoping to find what they know they will not see in this literally empty symbol of middle-class stability; Emma keeps insisting, with increasing desperation, “There’s a starving class of people, and we’re not part of it!”

For anyone conversant with Shepard, the terrain is familiar and rewarding.  The language is beautiful and the action hypnotic.  Siff fluently balances Shepard’s use of both kitchen sink dialogue and lyrical monologue.  Warshofky is hilarious, particularly in his second-act reveal as a genially sober Martha Stewart type, and Esau Pritchett, playing a predatory club owner and loan shark, brings the appropriate Greek-tragic gravitas to his role.  It’s a first-rate revival.  As Stevie Smith would say, a good time was had by all.

Curse of the Starving Class runs through June 2nd at the Irene Diamond Stage.  480 W. 42nd Street  New York, NY.  2 hours 30 minutes.  One intermission.

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