‘What Stays’ exposes family secrets, resentment and lies

By Liz Keill

SUMMIT, NJ – In an original play by Laura Ekstrand and Jason Szamreta, the Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre has provided an enlightening, funny and heart-felt view of family foibles.

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Ekstrand has said that the germ of the play came from conversations with the ensemble members of the troupe, based on their own experiences. She notes that many of their members have been with Dreamcatcher for 20 years, an rare commitment in today’s rapidly changing world.

When the play opens, we learn that Dorothy (Noreen Farley) has sold her house and is downsizing to a two-bedroom condo. Her husband Robert has died and she is ready to start anew. Her adult children gather to sort through belongings, reflect on memories and learn more than they need to know about each other.

There’s a discrepancy among the family members.  Michael (Scott McGowan) is a successful lawyer, who thinks he never lived up to his father’s expectations. He’s found a significant other, the witty and warm Charles (Harry Patrick Christian.) But Michael isn’t ready to disclose to his family that he’s in a gay relationship.

Daughter June (Harriett Trangucci) has her own issues to resolve. She’s busy clearing out a desk, which holds secrets that she’s determined to share. Susan is played by Ekstrand, there to organize the packing and disposing, but going through her own marital crisis. Karen (Nicole Callender) is Dorothy and Robert’s adopted daughter, quick with a quip,

but dealing with some sort of medical/emotional trauma. Then we have June’s daughter, Emma (Brianna Kalisch.) She and Graham (Christopher John Young) are romantically involved and, before the end of the play, become engaged.

Sorting out these relationships takes most of the 90-minute play, which is set in a Victorian house in Montclair, NJ.

The cast works smoothly together, with each actor bringing a distinctive quality to the production. Because of their ensemble work, you have the sense that they are, indeed, a family. Farley is always a fascinating actress to watch and here she underplays her role effectively, especially when we learn about her own deception over the years.

Betsy True has directed the production with an even flow. William Ward’s set design allows a sense of moving from attic to bedroom to kitchen in a seamless manner. Zach Pizza’s lighting enhances the atmosphere.

“What Stays” continues at Dreamcatcher Theatre through Feb. 25. For tickets, call 800-838-3006 or visit DreamcatcherRep.org. The theatre is located at Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave. in Summit.