Goodman Theatre. By Richard Nelson. Dir. Robert Falls. With Peter Weller.
When Frank Lloyd Wright and his mistress have a terrific row, one can only imagine what they say to each other. And that’s precisely the problem with Frank’s Home: One has to imagine. The most dramatic encounter in Nelson’s new play takes place offstage. What’s onstage—Wright’s come to L.A. to build a school, when he hears his Imperial Hotel in Japan may have been leveled by a quake—never courses with so much blood. Instead, Nelson’s great-man drama teems with great-man caricatures: the emotionally unavailable man himself; his bitter, drunken lover; his resentful adult children; and the pretty young thing with whom the old man flirts. It all plays like yesterday’s déjà vu. More disappointing than the clichéd take on the artist’s life (he cannot live for people, he lives for his art) is the hollow rhetoric about the artist’s work. Nelson has Wright mouth a long-winded, circular argument that artistic beauty is important because it’s important (because it’s beauty).
As the son, Lloyd, doomed never to fill the old man’s shoes, Jay Whittaker injects adrenalin into a confrontation with Dad. And as washed-up, once-big Louis Sullivan, Harris Yulin lends an air of reality to Falls’s otherwise highly artificial production (no natural ingredients included). Maggie Siff can’t manage daughter Catherine’s opposing traits of daddy’s little girl and angry woman, so ends up as neither. Meanwhile, as the architect himself, Weller, like the playwright, offers little. At the end, we know nothing about these people that we didn’t know—or couldn’t guess—at the start.—Novid Parsi