Riverside Theatre explores small-scale farce in ‘Line of Descent’

Line of Descent

Riverside Theatre — through Feb. 21

Riverside Theatre Line of Descent
Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers as Anna in ‘Line of Descent’ — photo via Riverside Theatre

Comedy is one of the most difficult genres to execute well. And farce is on a level all its own. We’re used to the A Flea In Her Ears and Noises Offs — large scale shows with impressive production accessories and a multitude of physical shenanigans on all ends of the playing space. However, instead of some of these epic farcical qualities, William McCauley’s Line of Descent is written to allow for smaller, more intimate spaces.

Line of Descent features just four characters, who spend a couple of hours on the stage manipulating their way into the money of a newly deceased woman (read more in LV’s preview of the show).

Kris Danford’s Laura, the architect assistant hopeful, was all smiles and bubbles throughout, bringing a dose of sweetness to the show’s greed and lechery (though her masculine physicality was really wonderful to watch — you had to be there). Of course, that naïve, almost annoying girlish charm is batted down as she sinks into the collective.

Rian Jairell played the role of Harry with intensity and gusto. Jairell did an incredible job keeping his energy through the roof, but the role itself seemed like it wasn’t fully realized within the world of the script. His character seemed the most out of place to me.

Kristy Hartsgrove Mooers is always a slam-dunk. Her Anna had wonderful timing and a complete in-the-moment quality that lent an honesty that must have been very hard to conjure in a character with such a love of corporal punishment and misunderstanding of education.

When building a show, a group becomes a sort of family. Especially in a small cast, not only do they learn blocking/lines/motivations/intentions apparent in the script, but they also unconsciously learn about each other through the rehearsal and production process, creating a unique bond. In this particular instance, 25% of the cast was brand new in the last week of rehearsal.

Incorporating Steven Marc Weiss into the show in the role of Douglas at such a late stage should have been daunting, to say the least. But he and the cast handled it marvelously. Moments lacking in pacing were nil (pacing is always important, but a lack of momentum in farce can knock a show to its knees) and staging seemed fluid throughout. Kudos to Weiss for taking on such a large task and executing it well, and kudos to the cast and crew for adopting a new family member into their fold so gracefully.

'Line of Descent' at Riverside Theatre
Rian Jairell as Harry in ‘Line of Descent’ — photo via Riverside Theatre

For me, there were some issues with the script itself. The show has four roles but only two of them felt like they truly belonged in this world. Anna & Douglas had a direct connection to the conflict from the jump, but the other two roles seemed very, well, convenient. It felt, at times, as though the playwright knew how he wanted to end the show, and worked backwards to justify the desired ending. There is a level of ridiculous that is hard to get in line with. Don’t get me wrong: the show is well-written, with lots of well-earned laughs and impeccable interpretation from the actors and their director. But it demanded a pretty hefty leap of faith from the audience. It seemed as though half the characters tripped and fell through the looking glass and into the reality of this story. Laura and Harry automatically had a lot more to overcome than their counterparts. Their complete commitment to these wacky outsiders was essential, and fully present.

Many but not all of the “bits” worked. The show is very specific in its staging to allow for the near misses familiar to the genre. The actors did a great job with the closeness, but, when they are almost back to back, it’s hard to believe they don’t realize they’re not alone with the sound of high heels a few feet away. Instead of the trope of doors opening and closing here and there, wigs are used to bring in multiple (in a sense) characters, which worked overall. There was a repeated use of photographs that never quite graduated from clunky. But the actors all committed, and it really showed. Bringing the inherent largeness of this genre to such a small stage would be difficult to achieve, but there it is, folks.

New work is particularly exciting to me, to see something taking life for the first time in front an audience. The chick is shoved out of the nest, and we’re all there to witness if it will fly or not. Line of Descent has a lot of wonderful qualities, and a small handful of flaws. The incredible amount of work put forth by the cast and crew is enough to make it work for me. It’s wonderful that Riverside hopes to continue to showcase new works from playwrights every season. Looking forward to the next one!

Line of Descent runs through Feb. 21; tickets are available on their website.