Off-Broadway Review: EVERYTHING’S FINE (Daryl Roth Theatre)

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by Kevin Vavasseur on October 17, 2022

in Theater-New York


Douglas McGrath presents as a nice, well-put together, middle-aged man. Onstage, McGrath wears a nice button-down collar shirt, stylish blazer with a matching kerchief in the pocket, nice khakis paired with nice, comfortable shoes. His thinning grey hair, cut in a nice, flattering style, tops his clean-cut look. Had he walked off-stage mid-show and returned sipping a martini in the tradition of a well-bred WASP, nary an eye would blink. Yet the story of personal child abuse he experienced within a transplanted Ivy League enclave is anything but nice. However, like his very nice outfit costumed by Linda Cho, nothing in McGrath’s writing or solo performance of this disturbing experience is ever ruffled, soiled, out of control or out of place. In his new play entitled Everything’s Fine, currently running at DR2 Stage at the Daryl Roth Theatre in New York City, McGrath relates his story of personal trauma in the nicest way possible.

The son of a Connecticut Yankee, Princeton educated father and Cincinnati born mother (a mother who before marriage worked at Harpers Bazaar directly with Diana Vreeland and befriended a not yet famous Andy Warhol), McGrath was born and raised in Midland, Texas. His father was a successful executive in the oil business. In the re-telling of his rather idyllic, Texas-style upbringing, McGrath makes the point that the small town was not typical West Texas as it was full of Eastern Ivy Leaguers (like his dad) who moved there to make good in the post war energy boom. With streets named Princeton and Harvard within the city boundaries, that insular, Ivy League culture not only infused Midland but also transplanted the tradition of keeping up the waspy “everything’s fine” veneer at all times.

The first part of the show is full of those amusing, inside, family stories that every family has which are usually best kept within the family. Then McGrath introduces the main event of the evening when he says, “Midland was many good things but….exciting it was not. Nothing much changed except the movies at the movie theaters, until one day early in eighth grade we got a new history teacher. And she fell in love with me.” “Love” is quite a generous description as McGrath’s forty-seven year old teacher initiated an inappropriate relationship with her fourteen-year-old student (McGrath) that ended up as a full-blown stalking. As McGrath goes further and further into his story, it’s chilling to realize the moments when she is grooming him and unsettling to see her mounting desperation for his attention. There is a happy ending of sorts but what McGrath describes is a terrible experience for anyone to undergo, let alone a fourteen-year-old boy.

However, you would never know that from this production. In the tradition of a classic Steven Spielberg movie, McGraths cast himself as a plucky young teenager who, with the help of his good friend Eddie, finds a way to defeat the bad guy without getting help from the clueless adults around him. The writing never goes deep into the inner world of the teenage McGrath, choosing to remain on the surface of any fear, anger, etc. he might be feeling. Following suit, the performance style of the adult McGrath remains on the surface as well. The show never really acknowledges the seriousness of the situation or provides a mature examination of why or how a dangerous relationship like this could have continued for so long. Which begs the question, why share this story publicly and what is the intended take away for a paying audience? After this main chunk of McGrath’s story finishes, the show continues now focused back on McGrath’s immediate family and how they all had their own version of maintaining an “everything’s fine” front when dealing with crisis. Is that good? Bad? Doesn’t matter? McGrath doesn’t really let on.

Mostly through his very specific and focused staging, director John Lithgow does an admirable job of bringing some theatrical spark to a script that is less a theatrical property than a long-form essay. McGrath is a Tony and Oscar nominated writer and this literary take on his childhood is nicely written. And while McGrath displays a likeable onstage persona, it is curious to witness how unaffected he remains throughout his performance, even in retelling such a difficult and personal experience. Perhaps because everything is fine which, if so, is a great place to be in life. It just doesn’t birth very compelling theater.

photos by Jeremy Daniel

Everything’s Fine
DR2 Stage at the Daryl Roth Theatre (103 East 15th Street)
for tickets, visit Everything’s Fine

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