The Pagans, Seanachai Theatre Company, at the Theatre Building. Late in Ann Noble Massey’s contemporary drama The Pagans, Margaret Riordan, the would-be matriarch of an Irish family pulling apart at the seams, finally lights into her haughty, moralizing sister, who’s lived off Margaret’s charity all her adult life. “You’ll die alone, just as you lived,” unmourned and quickly forgotten, Margaret calmly intones. It’s an uncompromising scene, a devastating climax to two hours of family devolution. But it’s ruined when Massey suddenly brings in village idiot Bobby Quinn simply to show, for the hundredth time, that he’s a lovable moron.

The scene epitomizes everything that’s thrilling and facile in this promising playwright’s new work. While Massey knows how to create highly charged situations–The Pagans opens on the night that prodigal son Michael returns to his boyhood home after fleeing to America with the family’s entire savings five years earlier–she has a difficult time sustaining tension for longer than ten-minute spurts, usually contained in conveniently arranged two-person showdowns. And too often her choices are so broad they’re unbelievable, nearly cartoonish: Michael flaunts his newly acquired wealth by arriving–at midnight in the middle of the Irish countryside–in a perfectly pressed Armani suit.

While director Kevin Theis too often exaggerates the script’s broadness, he also pushes his cast to find the play’s human truths, resulting in an uneven but ultimately affecting evening.

–Justin Hayford