A Family In Transition: Review of “Everything That’s Beautiful” at Human Race Theatre
By David Brush
There are family dramas that feel like the American theatre of the 1980’s and 1990’s – beautiful but often too safe and can lack surprise or some necessary second act gut-punch. Then there are the family dramas that defined much of the 2000’s – most notably something like Tracy Lett’s explosive August: Osage County – which heightens the stakes of long buried family secrets in fresh ways. And then there is Everything That’s Beautiful – which may be a perfect example of what a 2020’s family drama looks like – earnest but honest, emotional but grounded – and piercing without ever losing an iota of authenticity. True to form, The Human Race Theatre’s Company’s production of Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder’s exciting work lands in all the right places and speaks to HRTC’s continued effort to challenge audiences and be ever of-the-moment. It is made all the more bittersweet as it represents the final show with retiring Artistic Director Kevin Moore at the helm. And what an exit it is!
Everything That’s Beautiful centers around 10-year old Morgan – assigned male at birth but identifying as female (played on opening night by the endearing Isabella Roberts; Jax Heritage shares the role at alternating performances). Rounding out the family are parents, Luke and Jess and teenage brother, Theo. Together, they have relocated to help Morgan and the family find a fresh start after what we can only assume was a resistance to Morgan’s revelation. New jobs, new relationships, new secrets and a nearly tragic accident force the family to confront the inevitable falling-apart-at-the-seams – if only to pave the way for healing.
Moore’s direction utilizes every corner of Tamara L. Honesty’s smart scenic design – which places a water tank at its center. (Mermaids and swim lessons play an integral role in the the reality and mythology of the play.) Wilder’s script exists in brief, almost cinematic sequences. There were times the playwright was exploring a new layer of this complicated story and I wanted to know more, but then – black out. I would love for Wilder to push those wonderfully theatrical buttons more often.
The cast is simply riveting and often surprising. Luke (the wonderful Josh Aaron McCabe) achieves a nearly impossible feat in the short two hours. The end of Act One brings Luke to a low point that easily could turn an audience against him, only to then feel compassion for him post-intermission – and repeat that same sequence again before the final curtain. Luke’s nuance in both the writing and McCabe’s stirring performance keep audiences engaged. Likewise, the seemingly stalwart Jess (in a searing performance by Cincinnati-based Kelly Mengelkoch) has her own demons and we get to seem them on full display in the way she navigates a new coffee shop flirtation or – in contrast – how she mother-bears her children. Rounding out the cast is Eric Deiboldt as “Theo”, Justin McCombs as “Will” and Teresa Langford as “Gaby” – all providing much needed touch points for this family’s roller coaster journey.
Among the brilliant group of designers (many of them longtime Human Race resident artists), I was struck by Jay Brunner’s gorgeous and emotional original score – perfectly marrying the reality of a family in turmoil with the whimsy of Morgan’s view of the world so expertly balanced on stage by Moore.
Good family dramas should ask audiences to sit in awkward discomfort and Everything That’s Beautiful does just that. But I promise – the cartharsis is well-earned.
In additional news from the Human Race, two shows have been added to the season – the nostalgic comedy Incident at Our Lady Of Perpetual Help in April, while June will bring a collaboration with Arizona Theatre Company in the form of the new true musical, My 80-Year Old Boyfriend.
Tickets and performance information for “Everything That’s Beautiful” are available at www.humanracetheatre.org or by calling Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630. Performances continue through March 6.