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Theater: 'Playing with Grown Ups' is cynical and sharp

When four "adults" get together, their ability to play nice comes into question in "Playing with Grown Ups."

Playing with Grown Ups Stella (Daisy Hughes), a 16-year-old with all the answers, is dating Jake (Alan Cox), an academic pushing 40, in "Playing with Grown Ups."
Credit: Carol Rosegg

Out of the mouths of babes, they say. Playwright Hannah Patterson would seem to agree. In her shrewd “Playing with Grown Ups” at 59E59, babes’ mouths (two, to be exact) rule.

The first babe is newborn Lily, who, with her incessant crying and overwhelming neediness, has pushed her mother, Joanna (a whiny Trudi Jackson), to a postpartum point somewhere between depression and psychosis. The second is Stella (Daisy Hughes), a very attractive 16-year-old dating Jake (Alan Cox), an academic pushing 40. The only character to address the audience, Stella says that life is simple and adults unnecessarily complicate it. It’s hard to say whether the play supports or disproves her thesis, but probably both.

Completing the cast is Mark Rice-Oxley as Robert, who claims to be modern but is content to let his wife do the straightening up and cooking for the guests he’s invited over (Stella and Jake). Once company arrives, two issues clearly take center stage: Stella’s age and Joanna’s stridently adverse reaction to motherhood. Eventually the tinderbox explodes, the pieces go flying, and it’s hard to know for sure who’s left standing. Jake seems to have made a timely escape; Stella may be slightly bruised, but she presumably can take it. Joanna seems more like Medea than ever, and it looks like Robert will finally get his turn at housework.

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With its faint traces of Albee’s “Virginia Woolf,” “Grown Ups” is sharp and engaging. Its biggest shortcoming is in the character of Joanna: While we empathize with her dilemma, it’s hard to sympathize when she’s such a harridan. Slightly softer edges, in both the writing and the playing, would go a long way.

If you go


‘Playing with Grown Ups’
Through May 18
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th St.
$35, 212-279-4200
www.59e59.org
 
 
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