Courtesy photoStrong performances: Mark Pinter and Kim Martin-Cotten play a couple with a difficult child and marriage in Magic Theatre’s premiere of “Another Way Home.”

Family woes fill Magic Theatre's production of ‘Another Way Home’

In Magic Theatre’s “Another Way Home,” when a middle aged couple arrives for visiting day at Camp Kickapoo to see their teenage son, Joseph, they’re greeted with cold hostility.

Joey, who activates the events of the play, is sullen, hateful and, as portrayed by Daniel Petzold, weirdly jumpy, with a glazed, manic look in his eyes. Apparently the kid’s been like this for a long time. He’s been treated for ADD, depression and other conditions.

The painful parental visit serves as an occasion for anxious mother and frustrated photographer Lillian (a round-faced, emotionally open Kim Martin-Cotten) and her vaguely-dissatisfied-with-his-life husband Philip (an amiable, equally appealing Mark Pinter) to air out the frustrations in their 25-year marriage in a variety of squabbly, passive-aggressive ways.

Anna Ziegler’s drama, in its world premiere at Magic Theatre, examines the human condition through the prism of a contemporary, educated, middle-class American family.

Lillian and Philip don’t know why their lives have derailed, or why their son is so difficult, and, thankfully, Ziegler doesn’t provide pat answers. Joey himself doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, nor does his sister, Nora (a shrill Riley Krull), the designated good child who’s got her own demons.

This ought to engage us. Ziegler’s dealing with perennial mysteries such as the way a parent can love a seemingly unlovable child, the nature of truly listening to partners and how long-term marriages can fray around the edges for the most elusive reasons.

Yet her characters, and their problems, feel contrived and insufficiently explored. If Ziegler doesn’t try to overexplain the source of everyone’s misery — and that’s a good thing — she needs to find fresh and insightful ways for them to express it.

But she gives Lillian and Philip the task of narrating their way through the play, occasionally jumping in to act out the scenes. This self-conscious theatrical device can work if it’s done cleverly and for good reason. Here it feels like lazy playwriting. Despite strong acting by Martin-Cotten and Pinter under Meredith McDonough’s direction, the ensemble production suffers from the problem of adults playing children; Petzold and Krull, trying too hard to project youthful, off-the-wall energy, are unconvincing.

On the other hand, Jeremy Kahn, in a disappointingly underwritten role as Joey’s friend and camp counselor, nails it thoroughly as a slump-shouldered teen who longs for the type of caring family that unappreciative Joey finds so repugnant.  

Life happens to this family, but Ziegler hasn’t managed to make it feel truly lifelike.

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