If you’re looking for a romantic or traditional portrayal of a relationship, look elsewhere: KIN is about as unromantic as they come. Not only is it honest and without sentimentality, the main romance is all but absent from the equation. As it turns out, this is the genius of the piece: a relationship study that studies the relationships surrounding the couple instead of the couple itself. And it certainly helps that the writing is excellent and the cast superb. KIN is an honest exploration of the joys and burdens of being connected to people, a near pitch-perfect evening. KIN follows Anna, an Ivy League poetry scholar, and Sean, an Irish physical trainer, from before their first date to their wedding day, focusing not on the couple but their family and friends, the ties formed by their romance. Almost all scenes are between two people, and each gives us a portrait of the characters’ relationship. Some are longstanding, between brother and sister, best friends from boarding school, a man and his mistress. Others are formed only through Anna and Sean’s partnership, like that of Sean and Anna’s best friend, or Anna and Sean’s mother. Some are easy, some tense, many comical, and often revealing of the troubled nature of bonds between people.
Almost the entire cast should be praised for their nuanced work, supported greatly by Bathsheba Doran’s script and Sam Gold’s direction. Stand outs include Cotter Smith, who plays Adam, Anna’s father. Adam is an army man: stoic, reserved, speaking quickly in clipped sentences, as though still on duty. He seems unused to socializing with civilians, uncomfortable, which makes his desire and inability to connect with his daughter all the more painful to watch. Laura Heisler (Helena) and Suzanne Bertish (Linda) also give standout performances: Heisler is hilarious as a modern-day bohemian, waddling around the stage on 3 inch wedge sandals, yet forcing us to take her seriously at key moments. Bertish takes material that could be deemed melodramatic and keeps it truthful, drawing us in with dry wit that barely conceals real grief and trauma. I am least impressed with Kate Bush, who plays Anna: she makes the character cold and disinterested, impossible to empathize with and unconvincing in vulnerable moments.
Gold does a beautiful job emphasizing the central theme of KIN through staging. Actors change the set between scenes, and, more interestingly, are onstage from time to time, watching scenes seemingly unconnected to them. The first time this happens, Sean's mother and Uncle watch an interaction between Anna's father and his long-time lover. All of a sudden, four characters who have never met, who would have no connection to one another if not for Anna and Sean, are sharing the stage, one group taking interest in the others' lives. Gold is using theatrical tools only here, creating an experience that cannot be reproduced on film: the experience of seeing bodies in space together, bleeding into one anothers' worlds. We see that the characters both are and are not present in the scene; they are and are not watching. The actors become spectral in a way that is all the more eerie due to our knowledge of their actual, physical presence.
The penultimate scene in KIN brings this staging technique to an exquisite conclusion. Everyone assembles in Ireland for Sean and Anna's outdoor wedding, despite an overwhelmingly intense storm. As Helena attempts to officiate, screaming over the rain, fog fills the stage until we can't see a thing. As it begins to clear, a structure is rolled on downstage, a three dimensional frame that acts as various rooms throughout the performance, and Sean and Anna enter. Costumes and some vocal reverb tell us we're in a memory, what seems to be one of Sean and Anna's first dates. We listen as they learn about each other, their families, their ghosts. It is the first time the two are in a scene alone together, but we soon realize even now this isn't the case: as the fog clears further, we see the wedding party, still on stage. In the moment, without knowing it, Sean and Anna are beginning to bring all of these people together, and the family gets to watch it happen.
Anna says, "It's awful, isn't it?" Sean: What is? Anna: Getting to know someone.
It's a beautiful way to end the play: a perfect confluence of text, image and thematic material. But the play does not end. Instead, we are pulled back to the wedding day, to Anna and Sean laughing at their flooded ceremony, a confession from Sean that he's afraid to die, and a reassurance from Anna that they won't for a long time. To go from something so profound to something so obvious and cliche, and end there, is disappointing, to put it mildly. Fear of death permeates the play. It does not need to be stated. At this moment, and a couple of others, I wish Ms. Doran had had the guts to cut. Fingers crossed for future incarnations.
Still, no question, KIN is an astute portrait of the troubled ties that enfold and ensnare us, and it is beautifully rendered by the entire company.