Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Margulies’ “Long Lost”, in its premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club, is a play that’s exceptionally well written, directed, cast, acted and staged. It’s also exceptionally unoriginal.
Margulies tells a contemporary tale on the Cain and Abel theme. Billy (Lee Tergesen), homeless and estranged from his younger, wealthy financier brother David (Kelly Aucoin), shows up unannounced days before Christmas in David’s sleek Manhattan office. Billy declares he’s got cancer. Even though David had cut him loose after drug busts, imprisonment, recovery centers and family crisis that Billy had “caused”, David lets Billy temporarily stay with him and his philanthropist wife Molly (Annie Parisse) in their sleek Manhattan apartment. David and Molly’s teenage son Jeremy comes home from college for the holidays.
Family secrets get revealed; some you can see coming right from the first scene, other revelations - after countless dramas about family dysfunction - seem like nothing new. The lifeblood through which Margulies keeps the heart of “Long Lost” pumping is his precisely drawn characters. Jeremy, the college freshman, a product of privileged upbringing (Fieldstone then Brown) - as sensitive and well-adjusted that he is - can never fully grasp the realities of the hard-scrabble Midwest farm where his father and uncle grew up. Molly, with a steely air of professional cool and coutured élan, has the smarts (and reason) to armor herself against an emotional response to her brother-in-law’s predicament even while, at the same time, she raises millions for Manhattan’s underprivileged. Younger brother David, with his All-American ambitious, hungry look, reminds us perfectly of those shaved headed, navy blue-suited, open collar white-shirted, middle aged guys with heavy Rolexes hanging around the wrist, who populate Wall Street and who would have voted for Trump if they hadn’t married smart women. (Or maybe they did.)
And then there’s black-sheep Billy. Back in school, he was the wise-ass, bad-boy, the guy who always got all the girls, the partier, who was always in trouble but it was never his fault. And now - after all the booze and cocaine and pills, and money borrowed and never repaid, and arrests, and rehabs, and failed (or no) marriages - it’s still everybody else’s fault but his. Margulies nails where this Billy and his brother’s worlds collide, but their backstory conflict just isn’t that compelling.
Director Daniel Sullivan paces it all solidly (although the confrontation scene between David and his wife is a little wobbly.) John Lee Beatty’s scenic design - a handsome revolving set -and Ton-Leslie James costumes are spot-on to “Long Lost"'s Manhattan slice of life. In the end, does it matter if Billy really is at fault? The real tragedy is that it all turns out for mostly everyone the way it does.
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