DON’T DISAPPOINT CAPTAIN JANUARY, American Blues Theatre and Premiere Productions. Joseph Urbinato’s sprawling comedy-drama is crammed full of family secrets, unkempt relationships, Shirley Temple allusions, and gentle coincidences that lead to unlikely and sudden closure. The play tells the story of a daughter’s rebellion against her manipulative sister and fragile-seeming, possessive mother. The action begins with promising clarity, as we’re introduced to a family tormented by imaginary illness and real desperation. But in the second act Urbinato diffuses his careful setup by introducing a hippie-angel who shelters and heals the daughter and her family in the abandoned church he mysteriously guards.

The muddy plot and increasingly metaphorical language and character development undermine Urbinato’s effort to use wry comedy to confront the issue of family secrets and their unhealthy legacies. Despite Mary Ann Thebus’s subtle, nuanced performance as the mother, the play breaks up into vignettes and obvious confrontations. Thebus’s touching portrayal leaves us with a tantalizing curiosity about the future of this messy family, but for the most part her excellent work on a promising character gets lost in the clutter. In the end, when the daughter claims her full independence, there’s only a dull sense of relief that the playwright’s healing metaphor has run its course.

–Carol Burbank