Kingdom of the Shore kicks into gear at the beginning of the second act. Cathleen (Mhari Sandoval), the youngest and prettiest Moloney sister, drinks wine and flitters across the wicker couch like one of the Piping Plovers, snickered at by her dowdy brothers-in-law. Joan (Jodie Lynne McClintock), the “old maid” of the four Moloney sisters, occupies a wicker chair at center and guzzles wine. The two engage in that oldest and most basic of sibling games: backbiting.
“What I didn’t get,” Cathleen says between sips as she titters on tip-toes across the couch cushions, “was how she morphed from Jane Fonda to Mrs. Ted Turner.” The “she” is oldest sister and well-to-do and well-married lawyer Clare (Leigh Strimbeck). The two drinking Moloneys cackle over the quip, drink, and continue the game.
Delia (Lisa Bostnar), the shapeliest—and she knows it—Moloney (her go-to gesture is elongating her leg, pointing her toes so that her bare calf stretches to catch the light), initially doesn’t hear the stinging summation of her marriage to Nick (Steve Fletcher), a doctor like the sisters’ dead father and a ready daddy substitute: “Their marriage went through the stages of ‘disinterest’ to ‘disregard’ to ‘disdain,’ ” the duo sneer, until Delia walks in mid-laugh and the backbiting shifts to full-frontal psyche assault.
During the monologue-rich second act, I started to think of this world-premiere play by long-time Capital Repertory Theatre directing stalwart Terence Lamude as “Dancing at South Hamptons,” a nod to both the play’s kinship to Brian Friel’s masterpiece on Irish sisters, Dancing at Lughnasa, and its setting on the bay side of Southhampton, Long Island. The action started taking place onstage rather than offstage, and the characters started resembling humans rather than “dramedy” parodies with bickering punchlines and comic clichés hurled with laugh-track robotic precision. The actors started listening to each other. The play lived.
“What is it that Nanny said,” one sister says as they reveal concealed hurts old and new, “even contention is better than loneliness?”
Vaughn Patterson’s yellow clapboard Moloney summer home and wraparound porch is warm and inviting as the June breeze that seemed to sweep in from the opal clouds upstage right, and serves as the perfect setting for the sisters’ manipulations and maneuverings over whether to sell their legacy to the “immigrant invaders, ”as the otherwise crusading liberal Delia disparaged, or to keep it despite its unpleasant and painful decline.
Delia, Cathleen, and Nick found lighting designer Rachel Budin’s golden light and the downstage curve of the porch; there were three magic moments when each literally shone as they hurled hurts or longings or stinging rebukes at the others. Maggie Mancinelli-Cahill’s directing is sharp and clear to create these moments in Act 2. As their marriage crumbles like sand sculptures at high tide, Delia snarls at Nick, “It was one damned thing on top of another,” castigating him as he reaches for the scotch; “I drink to make you interesting” he snarls, and the scent of Albee’s George and Martha is on the sea breeze.
When Delia reveals a college affair in Dublin, not long after the familial betrayals are stripped bare, Kingdom of the Shore’s saving grace is sounded as the lights dim and Sinatra’s “My One and Only Love” plays from the dark interior of the Moloney’s summer home. An hour of sterling new theater comes to a close.
It should be a dramaturgical decree that when Sinatra plays, the show is over and it’s time to ruminate at home. It works for Friel.
That Kingdom of the Shore comes back for a 20-minute coda of happily tying together the loose ends means that, for this promising play and Capital Rep’s worthy efforts in bringing new works to its audience, there’s still some work to be done.