When actors decide to try their hands at writing, directing, or other nonperformance-based roles, they seem to open themselves up to criticism. What is it about Ethan Hawke writing a novel or Drew Barrymore directing a film that makes the public predict it’ll be terrible until proven otherwise? Maybe it’s the very misguided notion that actors are dumb or the reluctance to admit that some people are just that talented. Which brings me to Zoe Kazan’s new play, We Live Here. Kazan actually studied playwriting, but she segued early on into acting and, by her mid-20’s, had already done Chekhov on Broadway. With her first Off-Broadway production, she proves she can write, and while the play left me wanting a little more, I think she’s about to become one of those rare artists to enjoy a double career. A family drama set in the comfortable living room of an upscale New England home – a Pottery Barn catalog brought to life – We Live Here introduces us to a suburban family on the eve of daughter Allie’s wedding. Her much younger sister, Dinah, has a new boyfriend who comes for the wedding weekend without so much as a heads up let alone a formal invitation. When he arrives, it’s clear he has a history with this family, and their reactions range from surprise to nervous breakdown. Whatever went down with Daniel and the family happened years ago at a time when Dinah was too young to know better. Kazan shows her skill in subtly powerful ways here, dropping clues like breadcrumbs, and Sam Gold’s nuanced directing makes us feel the awkwardness of Daniel’s reunion with the family. By intermission, I was riveted.
But then the second act dismantles upon itself. As the family’s complications are increasingly revealed, it appears that Daniel isn’t integral to their problems; those hardships probably would have happened with or without him. An unexpected flashback is a thoughtful surprise, but it doesn’t illuminate anything beyond a very troubled family – which we already knew. In spite of it, the cast was fantastic. I loved watching Jessica Collins and Oscar Isaac (as Allie and Daniel) play off each other again. I remember seeing them as Macbeth and Lady Macbeth when both were students at Juilliard, and it’s great to see their onstage chemistry again. The play didn’t fully come together for me, but it’s clear Zoe Kazan is on to something. I’m excited to see what she does next.