Brother Jones

A play by Garth stein

“You’ve come to save us,” Serena Riddell proclaims to her brother, Jones, upon his return after a twenty-four year banishment from the family estate in Aberdeen, Washington. “You’ve come for Mother.” So begins a family reunion fraught with painful discovery and revelation. So begins Brother Jones.It was almost a quarter of a century ago when Jones, just 16 years old at the time, was forced to care for his two little sisters, his dying mother, and his alcoholic father. To save the family–and to save himself–Jones suffocated his mother in an act of mercy. His father reacted in anger, ban-ishing Jones from the family.

Now a successful boat builder on the East Coast, Jones feels compelled to return for the wedding of his youngest sister, Eliza. But what is compelling him? His love for his sister, whom he raised from birth until she was five years old? His dissatisfied wife? The lack of resolution between his father and himself?

Forced into a homecoming he’d rather avoid, Jones must ask difficult questions: Is his father, Samuel, well and fit? Or is he mad, as Sister Serena claims? Is Serena–who has cared for Samuel since Jones left–competent to continue looking after him, or is she mad, herself? Is their younger sister, Eliza, a doting cipher, or is she fully aware and merely biding her time until she has a chance to escape the claustrophobic town? And, as for the strange sighs, thumps, and groans heard throughout the house…are they evidence of the ghost of Zoe Riddell, whom Jones killed so long ago? If so, has she come to redeem Jones, or condemn him?

Brother Jones is a play about a man’s journey toward acceptance and forgiveness. On his journey, Jones confronts the issues that have been building in his family for twenty-four years, for a generation, for over a hundred years, since his great-great grandfather, Elijah, built Riddell House and cursed it to burn to the ground before it was ever inhabited by someone not of pure Riddell blood.

The Riddell family has made a tradition of being elusive and vague. One thing is not vague, however: the Riddell family has many dark and unspoken secrets. When these secrets are revealed, it is clear that they will either liberate the surviving family members, or doom them to live in a house that nobody wants, in a town that nobody cares about, and with a future that nobody can bear….

A review by LA Weekly

Garth Stein’s family-reunion drama follows the familiar plot structure in which a character, after years away from tumultuous family life, returns to face demons. In this case Jones Riddell (a stoic Patrick Gorman) leaves the comfort of his successful urban life to visit his drunken father, Samuel (John Ross Clark), and his troubled sisters, Serena (Tricia Allen) and Eliza (Ongyie Phoeriy), who still occupy a ramshackle house in the American Northwest. Jones’ British wife, Sara (Elizabeth Reynolds), offers an outsider’s point of view on a truly minacious family dynamic. Stein’s taut script sounds like a less poetic Tennessee Williams, with characters brimming with intensity. Allen’s gutsy, fascinating portrayal of Serena evokes the spirit of Blanche DuBois, while director Tony Gatto pushes his cast to the extremes suggested by the text — except for Gorman, who is allowed to hold back until he needs to strike. Christopher Nelson’s ingeniously ugly set has one worried that the ancient house it evokes won’t last through the evening’s performance. The entire spectacle moves from provoking an initial sense of overacting to a final realization of bravura performances.

— Tom Provenzano

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