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War in Paramus

In a program note for her play "War in Paramus," Barbara Dana reveals she came across the manuscript in a pile of boxes left over from a move to a new house. Despite several rewrites, workshops, and readings, the current incarnation by Abingdon Theatre Company retains a musty, dated air. The play's themes are those of the date of its setting: the 1970s.

The Gardner family is a quartet straight out of the canon of two literary Johns, Cheever and Updike, with dashes of David Rabe and Harold Pinter sprinkled on top. Father William (Matthew Arkin, the playwright's son) is a distracted, amiable fellow more concerned with his toy boats and memories of his dead mother than his dysfunctional clan. Mother Violet (Kate Bushmann) obsesses over paint chips and indignities suffered at Bloomingdale's. Older daughter Jennifer (Lisa McCormick) hates her job and doesn't really know her cipher-like fiancé, Kevin (Jeremy Beiler). Younger daughter Thelma (Anne Letscher) is so starved for attention that she commits acts of rebellion both small (playing Janis Joplin at full volume) and large (burglary and arson). In short, they're a breed we've encountered numerous times in fiction, films, TV, and on the stage: the soulless, upper-middle-class brood, focused on material possessions and status, unable to communicate or connect.

This familiar construct is briefly and thrillingly disrupted by the presence of Harry and Philip, two scary teenage boys (Gene Gallerano and David McElfresh). Even though Dana telegraphs their actions -- Harry continually flashes a huge hunting knife, meaning somebody's going to get stuck with it -- these guys are dangerous, detailed, and real. But they leave after a short stay and we're back with the dull Gardners.

Austin Pendleton delivers a clean staging and the performances are genuinely felt, especially by an intense Letscher and an endearing Arkin. The physical environment by Michael Schweikardt and costumes by Wade Laboissonniere are period perfect, but the play fails to make the time trip to contemporary relevance.

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