"Family Portrait" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project is a fascinating look into the dynamics of a complicated family opened up to us and to itself through the death of its patriarch, John Morgan. John was a successful inventor and entrepreneur, a president of chamber of commerce, a valued member of the community who built his own company from scratch. John was also an egocentric multiple adulterer, a homophobe and a sexist. He was a man that it could be bruising to be around. As the family gathers for the funeral, scars are opened; some are healed, and some merely cleansed and rebandaged.
The family's mother Katherine is played with dignified alcoholic sadness by Lori Garraghty. Cory Aiello played Greg, the artistic son, a writer, disowned by John when he confesses that he is gay with bitter rage that could melt into a surprising bubbling good humor. Greg begins totally isolated from the family in his bitter anger. Its photographer partner, James, played with efficiency by Todd Fleck, who convinces Greg to attend the funeral as part of a documentary project. Cory's brother Todd Aiello played the stiff brother Dave. Dave was the dutiful son, but still a family member who came in for his share of fatherly abuse. Annie Morgan the youngest, the graceful Lauren Pope, has to contend with the ache of her father's disdain for girl children and later the irony of the discovery that she isn't even his daughter.
Two outsiders figure prominently in the family constellation of "Family Portrait." Donna Miles played John's administrator and former lover, Diane McClellan She copes with continuing love mixed with anger and forlorn hope. Emily Chovanec as Amanda Jensen, was the latest in John's string of women on the side with the complication that she's pregnant.
"Family Portrait" is played out in short scenes, mostly duos with occasional solos and larger ensembles. It's a skillfully done arrangement that works well, though initially I did find myself longing for some more extended moments. The larger groups and more length did arrive as the drama played. The revelation of the family's mysteries is a gripping process. Frankly, final resolutions are just a bit neatly forced in spots, but most are quite dramatically appropriate and a few are downright perfect.
"Family Portrait" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project is a play well worth seeing. It's also a thoroughgoing demonstration of the value that the BPP brings to the community.
Theatre is by its nature a collaborative art and "Family Portrait" is more collaborative than most. The writing credit is shared by Mike Smith, Erynn Miles and Hal Kibbey. These are seasoned writers who've gotten a good bit of their seasoning through the Project.
The director Hannah Smith is an IU Theatre graduate who's taken advantage of and contributed to the community through work as a crew member, actor and director at the Project.
The very accomplished cast is a mix of students and community members.
"Family Portrait" at the Bloomington Playwrights Project plays Thursday, Friday and Saturday at eight and Sunday at two with additional performances the 18th through the 20th.
You can listen to an interview with Hannah Smith and Cory Aiello on our Arts Interviews page .