Pictured: (l-r) David Martin, Stasha Case,vMichael Juncker, and Matt Leonard. Photo by Shelly Stewart Banks.
Review: POOR RELATIONS at Olathe Civic Theatre Association
By Marissa Carter
POOR RELATIONS, produced by Olathe Civic Theatre Association, is an exploration of life and family that is much deeper than it seems on the surface.
This touching drama, written by Robert Flaherty Hart, takes place over a year in the lives of three siblings. Karen, played by Stasha Case, is the only sister and a natural peacemaker. She has a fun-loving husband named Charlie (Michael Juncker), two kids, and two dogs. Her life is busy, full, and utterly normal.
Karen and her brother Jeff (David Martin) are reconnecting after some time apart. Jeff has come into town for their mother’s funeral, and we get the impression that he has not been home for some time. The conversation in this first scene is so real and normal that it actually gets a little boring, like eavesdropping on the conversation of strangers. Little do we know we were being lulled into complacency by a brilliant writer who clearly understands the fine art of unfolding a complicated story a single line at a time.
Jeff, a professor who takes obvious pride in his position in life, is angry that he will soon have to face his older brother Richie for the first time in years. Richie tormented Jeff throughout their entire childhood, and Jeff is not prepared to offer forgiveness, or even kindness, to his abuser. Karen begs Jeff to “be nice” and Jeff reluctantly agrees.
The story takes its first twist when Karen announces that Richie has a lot of money now and has written large checks for each of his siblings. Jeff is astounded (and insanely jealous), and debates whether he will even accept the money since, considering Richie’s history, it is very likely “blood money.” By the time we meet Richie (Matt Leonard), it is clear he is the villain in the story.
Leonard brings a startling depth of character to Richie, who becomes less of a villain and more of a heroic victim as each scene progresses. By the time the play is over, all the family secrets are revealed and it is left to the audience to decide who should be blamed and who should be celebrated as the winner in this sibling rivalry.
This play is one of those rare gems where the author is the true star. Hart has written a story that resonates deeply and touches a raw nerve in anyone who has struggled with abuse or even just challenging family issues. He treats each character with individual respect and leaves the audience wondering whether there are any real villains in life, or if we are all just victims of circumstance doing the best we can to cope with whatever comes along.
The whole play is set in Karen’s kitchen, which is a perfect representation of an average suburban home. The set is realistic and well thought out, allowing director Tina Morrison to achieve excellent visual balance in a small space.
POOR RELATIONS is a story that will stay with you, produced entirely by a volunteer cast and crew of local talent. It contains strong language and some very mature themes so it is not for everyone. Those that choose to take the journey will be rewarded with a rich story and possibly a new outlook on their own relationships.