It’s a trope as old as sibling rivalry: A family gathers together under one roof, each member hoping in vain that things go smoothly when, in fact, everyone’s long-held grudges will inevitably explode faster than you can say the words “cathartic resolution.” Of Good Stock, a new play by Melissa Ross playing at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage I through July 26, doesn’t stray far from that formula, but fortunately, a laugh-out-loud funny script and a troupe of proficient actors save the dramedy from feeling stale.
Together for a weekend on Cape Cod, the Stockton sisters Jess (Jennifer Mudge), Amy (Clueless star Alicia Silverstone), and Celia (Heather Lind), rehash old arguments with their significant others in tow. Among their discussions are their parents, who both died young, particularly their Pulitzer-winning father’s legacy (he’s compared favorably to Salinger and Irving), and the ways the latter’s vices (“f–king the maid, the nanny, and the next-door neighbor while his wife was in hospice”, exclaims one of their husbands) still affect the daughters. As the weekend unfolds, relationships blossom while others crumble, and the remaining Stocktons try to make sense of their adult lives, knowing that the early deaths that took their parents could be coming for them too.
The casting is nearly perfect here—Silverstone is magnetic even as an engaged narcissist, ditzy with self-described “bride brain”; she could be easily be Cher Horowitz’s far less endearing older sister. As her fiancé Josh, Greg Keller makes a slick, preppy playboy surprisingly sympathetic. Mudge is a bit less memorable, but only because her character is; Jess’ personal issues are graver than those of her sisters, though Ross’ script seems to focus on the maternal, oldest Stockton daughter’s problems the least. Jess’ spouse Fred (House of Cards’ Kelly AuCoin) provides both pathos and comic relief—quick with a joke, but also deeply caring, and AuCoin gives him a goofy charm. The baby of the family, Lind’s Celia, is a lovable, cursing mess, and her boyfriend Hunter (played by Nate Miller) is a big-hearted Montana boy who speaks like a surfer and has no less than twelve siblings. Lind convincingly shows the headstrong, commitment-phobic Celia giving in to the sweetness of her new relationship, and Miller adeptly oscillates between making Hunter seem both aloof and perceptive.
Playwright Ross’ quips give Of Good Stock the engaging feel of a good sitcom, though the jokes are particularly suited to an NYC audience—there’s a bit poking fun at Brooklyn’s “artisanal” obsession, and a spat over the pronunciation of David Chang’s über-hip Momofuku restaurants, ending with Celia’s cry of “Momo-f—k you!” It is only during the sisters’ climactic airing-of-the-grievances stretch where the play begins to feel longer than its breezy two hours. (Silverstone’s eventual meltdown may put a lump in your throat as it crescendos, but the scene drags on far too long.) Still, the skilled performers elevate a potentially Stock setup to a relatable and thoroughly entertaining experience. B+