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Freedomland, TriArts Inc., at the Athenaeum Theatre. If you want some indication of how much significance has leaked out of American theater over the past couple of decades, compare Sam Shepard’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize-winning Buried Child with Amy Freed’s 1998 Pulitzer-nominated Freedomland. Both offer sagas of dysfunctional nuclear families, but while Shepard’s sweeping drama eviscerates the American psyche, Freed’s creaky, implausible sitcom has no recognizable connection to the lives people actually live.
The members of Freed’s fictional Underfinger family aren’t characters but artless, one-note exaggerations. Father Noah is a former professor who prattles on about the dangers of globalization. Daughter Sig is a rabidly ambitious painter whose cheesy clown canvases have been mistaken for works of genius. Daughter Polly is a terminally insecure feminist academic whose libido repression expresses itself as writer’s block. And son Seth is an angry survivalist itching to set off explosives. The kids gather randomly at dad’s house and then, without any dramatic narrative, merely display their wacky quirks all evening–until the two-hour mark, when Freed suddenly makes everyone serious and hands them psychological crises that spring from nowhere. It’s Nicky Silver without the heart, if such a thing is possible.
Director Bryan White’s production is chock-full of talent. Troy Fujimura and Simon Lashford have created a stunning set, and the cast, with a few exceptions, show lots of nuanced smarts. But nothing can save this inept script from its resounding irrelevance.