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stage dive

Stage Dive: Ethan Hawke Better Than Ever in Blood From a Stone

Ann Dowd and Ethan Hawke in their flood tide of post-Costco trash.

“Can’t you just see us in Paris?” sighs the matriarch of the working-class Connecticut clan collapsing before our eyes over the course of Blood from a Stone, a raucous, harrowing, exhilaratingly flawed first attempt by actor Tommy Nohilly.  Needless to say, we cannot see these people in Paris. We can barely see them in Bridgeport; and if we did see them, we’d be wise to cross the street. Their house (another great domestic DMZ from Derek McClane), swamped in a flood tide of post-Costco trash, is deteriorating in real time, and so are they.

Travis (an ever-more-excellent Ethan Hawke), the eldest and most dependable scion, has returned from war with a pill habit and the spiritual equivalent of restless-leg syndrome: He can’t hold a job or a girlfriend or even a steady GPS coordinate. Even now, he’s only home to score cash and painkillers for a cross-country trip. The concept of home is synonymous with death for him, and after five minutes with his family, we see why. His little brother Matt (Thomas Guiry) is a time bomb, a gambler, a dreamer, and a liar. Sister Sarah (Natasha Lyonne), a nurse like her mom, finds escape only in a chain of endless work shifts.  Mother Margaret (the remarkable Ann Dowd) is a well-intentioned harpy with a bad hip, a co-dependent crush on her sons, and a fatal, nameless grudge against her husband Bill (a ferocious Gordon Clapp). Oh, Bill’s a pistol: Half-deaf, often apoplectic, and probably in the early stages of some undiagnosed dementia — the symptoms of which are basically indistinguishable from his personality — he’s a pitiable and dangerous grotesque of the classic Kramden paterfamilias. Clearly, a long-delayed demon-male confrontation is coming, and come it does — though by the time it arrives, it seems beside the point. We’ve already supped at the all-you-can-eat pathos bar, and we’re stuffed past the point of needing or wanting catharsis.

The American stage has, over the course of its history, produced almost as many unhappy families as the American dream, but rarely has domestic despair come in the kind of economy-size sadness packs Nohilly and director Scott Elliott drag onstage. Blood is a clattering freight train of sequential disaster, with no particular destination in mind. It’s just a majestic wallow, set to the music of blue-collar despair. But if Blood is not quite a full play, even at nearly three hours, it does introduce a full (and occasionally fulsome) voice, a playwright with a dangerously enlarged heart and a voice to match.

Blood From a Stone is running through February 19 at the Acorn Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street.

Photo: Photo by Monique Carboni