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Nuclear families occasionally explode, and this play captures the detonation

Wednesday, May 24 2006
Nuclear families occasionally explode, and this sparkling production of Paul Weitz's startling new play captures the moment of detonation in all its hilariously heartbreaking glory. The show opens in a suburban house with Jon, an all-American dad, drinking his morning coffee — and playing Russian roulette. Jon might be going crazy for sane reasons: His son's capacity for violence is matched only by his lacerating self-contempt, his daughter has one hand in the liquor cabinet and one foot out the door, and his wife is having an affair with the guy next door, who lives with a woman who may or may not want Jon. Weitz seems to revel in taking moments we've seen before — on sitcoms, or perhaps in our own households — and twisting them till they crackle with an appealing exoticism. This is dark comedy done correctly. Roulette switches between broad humor and pitch-black despair, often within the same beat, and director Susi Damilano and her uncommonly talented cast navigate these dizzying moments with skill and subtlety. Roulette succeeds in referencing, then surpassing, much of the American family drama of the last 20 years; it shows us that kin, like the human heart, is both ugly and essential. The same is true of great theater.

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Frank Wortham


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