In ‘Corsicana,’ playwright Will Arbery writes an ode to his sister with Down syndrome

The impulse to make artwork in tribute to a beloved one is as outdated as Dante’s “La Vita Nuova,” impressed by his lifelong unrequited paramour, Beatrice Portinari, and as up-to-the-minute as Kanye West’s album “Donda,” devoted to his mom. Will Arbery’s new play “Corsicana,” now working Off-Broadway at Playwrights Horizons, warmly depicts a model of his relationship to his real-life older sister, Julia, who has Down syndrome and with whom he stays shut.

However the dramatic acuity and theatrical creativeness Arbery displayed in such earlier performs as “Plano” and “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” have all however deserted him in “Corsicana.” It has lovely empathic moments, notably in just a few intimate scenes between Christopher (Will Dagger) and Ginny (Jamie Brewer), the stand-ins for the playwright and his sister, as they renegotiate an grownup relationship whose patterns had been set by a troubled childhood and extra lately scrambled by the dying of their mom. And the playwright provides us flashes of the high-flying monologic brilliance that was among the many attracts of “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” notably in a scene during which Christopher unburdens himself of a long-buried trauma and its presumably supernaturally directed therapeutic.

“Corsicana” has lovely empathic moments, however not the theatrical creativeness of “Plano” or “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.”

However the form of “Corsicana,” named for the small Texas metropolis during which it’s set, is odd and stiff, qualities which are solely exacerbated by director Sam Gold’s spare, typically awkwardly formal staging. The play’s motion hinges on Christopher’s plan to offer Ginny a inventive outlet by hiring an eccentric older artist named Lot (Harold Surratt) to put in writing a music together with her. The gesture, although well-meaning, is unutterably patronizing—each to Ginny, who doesn’t really feel she wants this type of assist, and to Lot, one thing of a misanthrope who chafes at being employed as a sort of babysitter.

As soon as put collectively, these two don’t actually spark to one another, as they may in a extra formulaic play. Nonetheless, we’re clearly meant to see the commonality between the Black outsider artist, along with his tall tales about dinosaur ghosts and his resistance to categorization, and the sunny, misunderstood white lady with Down syndrome who would fairly speak about Disney and pop stars. “We’re so sophisticated, individuals don’t need to give it some thought. In order that they make us extra easy,” Lot tells her, in a tidy summation of their shared otherness. However in sketching these characters with out giving them a lot to do or to attempt for, apart from the want to be left alone, Arbery dangers an analogous simplification.

The impulse to make artwork in tribute to a beloved one is as outdated as Dante’s “La Vita Nuova” and as up-to-the-minute as Kanye West’s album “Donda.”

The fourth member of the play’s lopsided quartet is Justice, a household pal performed by the good Deirdre O’Connell, a latest Tony winner for her otherworldly efficiency in “Dana H.” Exhibiting as much as verify in on others and function a sounding board for his or her considerations, Justice, as her title suggests, is much less an actual individual than a metaphor, maybe a guardian angel. She does communicate of feeling haunted, typically in broad daylight, by a person whose id she will be able to’t place, and confesses some unsaintly shortcomings. At one level she holds a manuscript of a guide she’s writing and, when requested what it’s about, replies partially:

Nicely it’s about anarchism and items. Concerning the perception that people are essentially beneficiant, or not less than cooperative. That in our hearts, most of us actually do need the nice. It’s in regards to the evils of centralized energy, particularly in a rustic as huge as the usA., not to mention a state as massive as Texas. It’s about an unforgiving land. It’s about unrealized utopias. It’s about how failing is the purpose. It’s about give up. It’s about small teams. It’s about neighborhood. It’s about the proper to well-being. It’s about household. It’s in regards to the useless. It’s about ghosts. It’s about light chaos. It’s about contracts of the center.

That’s “Corsicana” in a nutshell: It tells you what it’s about, to a fault, however largely falters in dramatizing its concepts. The closest it involves realizing its inspiration, appropriately sufficient, is in Jamie Brewer’s efficiency as Ginny. Brewer, a seasoned actor finest identified for roles on the FX present “American Horror Story,” renders Ginny with complication, wit and authenticity, and Gold’s matter-of-fact staging, although enervating in its total impact on the play, has the appreciable advantage of plainly putting Ginny onstage earlier than us, within the course of humanizing her and her Down syndrome with bracing particularity: how she walks, how she wears her denims, how she flings herself throughout a sofa in frustration at her brother. This highly effective embodiment does greater than 10 monologues may in telling us about her situation and the way she feels about it (although the play provides us a few of these too).

“Glass Menagerie” is one other touchstone for “Corsicana,” as Tennessee Williams wrote his play as a sort of tribute to his sister, Rose.

This gesture remembers Gold’s Broadway manufacturing of “The Glass Menagerie,” during which he solid Madison Ferris, a girl with muscular dystrophy, as Laura, placing her seen incapacity middle stage and within the course of shading that traditional play in a starker, finally extra empathetic gentle. Certainly, “Glass Menagerie” is one other touchstone for “Corsicana,” as Tennessee Williams wrote his 1944 play as a sort of tribute to his sister, Rose, altering her real-life situation, schizophrenia, to a bodily incapacity requiring leg braces.

Williams additionally, crucially, pitted his play’s three sad members of the family in opposition to one another, in a battle of lofty expectations and crushing actuality. Arbery largely avoids such bruising competition, opting as a substitute for indirect dissonance and halting rapprochement.

The play’s finest scene could also be amongst its easiest: a thorny argument on a sofa between Christopher and Ginny, during which he accuses her of being imply to him and he or she apologizes. Hugging him, she says, not with out love, “You’ve acquired edge, bro. You’ve acquired points.” Arbery’s “Corsicana” has loads of points however not a lot edge.