Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: fighting siblings reassemble at the bedside of a dying parent, where tempers flare, resentment bubbles to the surface, and there’s a lot of yelling. If it sounds familiar, that’s because Melissa Ross’ play Thinner Than Water treads worn ground, but without elegant writing or fleshed-out characters to elevate it above the dysfunctional family trope.
Despite a mass of talent onstage and off, Kitchen Dog Theater’s production is weighed down by Ross’ banal script. We’ve seen these people and heard their arguments before, but Ross makes sure to hammer everything home by having her characters talk in circles and rehash each miserable detail of their lives and beefs with each other through flabby dialogue.
It’s frustrating to see director Christopher Carlos and this cast—a mixture of KDT regulars and faces familiar from other theaters around town—struggle to find a shred of likability in characters that refuse to do anything but complain and tear each other down.
“If your life was my life, I’d be pissed off too,” Clay Yocum’s Gary tells his half-sister, Renee, played with razor’s-edge rudeness by Tina Parker. Just as Renee reduces their mothers to “the hot one, the fat one, and the pain in the ass,” the three half-siblings can just as easily be labeled “the flake, the slacker, and the nag.”
For two hours we watch as flighty Cassie (Liza Marie Gonzalez) makes a succession of poor choices, relying on a pretty face and innocent nature to carry her through her drama-filled life. Gary, a 30-year-old living above his mother’s garage and working in a comic book store (also staffed by Drew Wall, funny with a superfluous character), attempts to grow up by applying to be a Big Brother to Angela’s (Kenneisha Thompson) son. And Renee, bitter about her failing marriage to Mark (Jeremy Schwartz) and constant responsibilities, is quick to judge and blame everyone but herself.
Over and over the characters react to how horrifyingly depressing their lives are, yet the words never seem to sink in. The only person who refuses to let the negativity take hold is Gwen, the hospitalized father’s new girlfriend who’s a stranger to this trio. Angela Wilson chirps her way through Gwen’s nervous, stream-of-consciousness chatter, charmingly playing the foil to the self-obsessed children. “Are you finished yet? Being horrible and hateful to each other?” she finally explodes. You said it, girl.
An intricately mapped-out set by Clare Floyd DeVries packs seven different locations into the MAC’s smaller black box space. Besides eliminating scene-change time, it imparts a feeling of claustrophobia for characters who are trapped in their stale lives. John M. Flores’ evocative sound design sets the tone with appropriately chosen music—Queen’s “Under Pressure” is especially effective.
After an unrelenting barrage of insults and bad behavior, this show reminds us that you can’t choose your family, but you sure are stuck with them.