A family affair: most people groan at the thought. We all have a cheek-pinching grandma we’d like to avoid or a crazy uncle whose ramblings we’d rather not suffer through. We complain the entire way to the affair, paste on a fake smile throughout the event and praise whatever is good in the world when we finally escape.
UR’s International Theatre Program’s “A Family Affair,” which runs today through Saturday, April 19, at 8 p.m., Sunday, April 20, at 3 p.m. and Wednesday, April 23 through Saturday, April 26, at 8:00 p.m., is an entirely different kind of affair.
Adapted by Nick Dear from Alexander Ostrovsky’s 1850 original, the play follows a middle-class family as it tries to claw its way up the social ladder. Rich with satire and a flair of comedy, it is both amusing and thought-provoking in its commentary on the destruction of morality in the pursuit of “success.”
Focused on the merchant Bolshov’s assistant Lazar, “A Family Affair” traces the young man’s efforts to elevate his social and financial status by any means necessary. Through backroom dealings with a drunken lawyer, an outgoing matchmaker and a younger assistant, Lazar is able to achieve his goal – he assumes control of Bolshov’s businesses, ownership of Bolshov’s home and marriage to Bolshov’s self-centered daughter Lipochka. In effect, he has catapulted himself into the highest ranks of a corrupted society, driven by money and prestige rather than morality.
Life is never so simple, however, and as the play continues to follow Lazar’s story, the ramifications of his actions become readily apparent. As his partners in crime come to collect debts, and even those with more care for money than morals begin to protest his actions, the audience is led to question (quite literally, at the insistence of several shouting cast members) at what point the desire for success crosses into the obscene. Things quickly climax in an intriguing finale, in many ways leaving the audience with more questions than answers.
“The talent is really raw because there’s no [formal] training,” director Roger Bennington said. “The students are really enthusiastic and committed. I really love that I have a cast of a variety of different experience levels. The theater program at Rochester encourages risk-taking – both in the production of the play and the performances by the actors. It’s about really pushing actors to make extreme choices.”
As with any successful satire, “A Family Affair” provides more than just a few laughs – despite its comedic front, the play inspires much deeper thought. Through its scathing portrayal of the characters’ motivations and actions, we are forced to examine our own society and moralities in themes of narcissism and greed that hold as true in the modern world as they did in Ostrovsky’s 19th-century Russia.
“In any play that you go to,” Bennington added, “the [house] lights go down, the [stage] lights come up, the curtain opens and we’re transported to a new place. When the lights come up, though, you’re still in the theater, you create a whole new world – we may be calling it Padua or Verona “Romeo and Juliet,” but it’s still an environment that’s been completely made up. My concern is not to be historically correct or locationally correct-the joy of making theater is creating a whole new world.”
In addition to comedy and biting satire, the International Theatre Program’s interpretation of the play delivers much more. From an impressive set (complete with radio booth and elevator) to captivating characters (including, but by no means limited to, a cross-dressed maid and a stubborn merchant), “A Family Affair” is both aesthecetically pleasing and intellectually intriguing or, as Bennington refers to it, “Paris Hilton meets Project Runway!”
Augmented by a catchy soundtrack, impressive lighting and powerful acting (complete with audience interaction) and despite a few questionable moments, the International Theatre Program’s production has all the ingredients for success.
In place of cheek-pinching grandmas and philosophizing uncles, “A Family Affair” substitutes a conceited family with a few issues of their own. However, its comedic and satirical airs give it a definite edge over your typical family events. Whether it’s amusement you seek or something a little more thought-provoking, the International Theatre Program’s “Family Affair” delivers. It’s one family affair you won’t want to skip.
Lazdowski is a member of the class of 2011.