Sam Shepard’s 1977 play, “Curse of the Starving Class,” is a particularly nasty look at a disintegrating family, apparently symbolically meant to depict a disintegrating society. This new staging by director Terry Kinny features an excellent cast interpreting Shepard’s tortured characters.
At the outset one sees an elaborate stage-wide kitchen set (scenic design by Julian Crouch), and one admires the overall look. Then presto—the shocking surprise. The set explodes in a mighty blast, and we are left with shredded walls, hanging utensils and a totally desolate look of the wasteland within which a family lives.
The depiction of the characters that follows conforms to the rubble. The parents are David Warshofsky as Weston, who lives in a drunken stupor, and Maggie Siff as Ella, who desperately wants a change in her life and is scheming to sell the house and land without her spaced-out husband’s knowledge.
Their children are the troubled, angry son, Wesley, played by Gilles Geary, and his sassy, bitter younger sister, Emma, portrayed accordingly by Lizzy DeClement. She throws a tantrum when she finds the chicken she has raised missing from the fridge. Emma is headed for trouble with a violent outburst that lands her in the clink. (Speaking of animals, a lovely lamb is brought out and put into a cage on the kitchen floor. Given the tenor of the play, one is anxious about the lamb’s future.)
Ella has latched onto a lawyer for developers, Andre Rothenberg as Taylor, and they are in the process of negotiating the secret sale. Unknown to Ella, her husband in a drunken binge has sold the property for a pittance to Ellis (Esau Pritchett), owner of a local joint called the Alibi Club. When that situation is exposed, Taylor erupts in frustration and gives a diatribe that reveals his contempt for Ella and the way in which he has been using her to promote the sort of development that Shepard appears to be condemning as the usurping of people’s lives in the name of profits that result in spoiling local areas.
In the second act we see a sudden, not very believable revival of the father into a changed, sober human being who wants to make something of the property. When he is made to realize that he had sold it while drunk he is devastated. His situation is compounded by debts he has incurred and cannot pay and he needs to get out of town to avoid danger from enforcers.
The problem at that point is that the play sort of peters out. Yes, the characters disperse according to their needs of the moment, but the dramatic punch has been weakened and there is nowhere near the bang at the end that there was in the beginning. One may leave pondering what Shepard has wrought, yet still have been entertained by the performances and the author’s malevolent take on their lives in this mean-spirited play, his gift for peppering dialogue with some observantly funny lines and speeches that border on the poetic. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed May 16, 2019