D.A.G. Burgos's Family Linen is something of a hybrid. The play is about a seemingly current -day dysfunctional family, but it has an odd '50s kind of sensibility. Included are murder, abuse, incest, rivalries, and loyalties, but it's as if the characters were motivated more by watching film noir than by the 11 O'Clock News.
There has been a murder, and it is clear right from the beginning that the dead woman is an angry, disapproving, domineering mother. Her elder son Michael was discovered trying to dispose of the body, and now, of course, he is being held for murder. He's been in and out of jail and has a violent past. Most recently, he was in jail for beating up his boss, and was only paroled to his mother's custody at the request of his younger brother, Adam. Mother has always blamed Michael for her unhappy life, since she had to marry his father because she was pregnant. Adam, however, is her beloved, golden son; he can do no wrong. Until he has a girlfriend, that is.
There is no love lost between the members of this family - Michael hates his father who deserted the family; hates his mother, who treats him like dirt ("You're just like your father - I worked and slaved..."). Mother behaves seductively with Adam, and openly insults his girlfriend. Sergeant Wilson's questioning of Michael reveals scenes of what his life was really like, which is in direct opposition to what he is telling the Sergeant. The brothers also have a love/hate relationship because, while Adam idolizes his older brother, it becomes clear that it is also an abusive, destructive dependency.
New facets of the dysfunctionality are continually revealed, and there is even a touching bit of symbolism: the bloody sheet the mother's body was wrapped in is associated with her own first sexual experience with her husband. This is the family linen that simultaneously hides and reveals this family's festering secrets.
The play was helped by the performances of the cast, who brought across the confusion and loathing of the people caught in this blackness - Robin Colestro as the monstrous Mother, who is revealed to have only a tenuous grasp on reality; Kendall Pigg as the accused Michael; Chantel Gonzalez as the girlfriend Laura; John Reiniers as the clueless Sergeant Wilson; and especially Brian Luna as Adam. The blackness was also expressed in the starkness of the setting and costumes - all black, relieved only by a touch of color on Laura, and by Adam's blue denim. Good lighting delineated the playing areas, and director Tanya Klein did well by the melodrama of the story, managing a degree of tension even when the psychology was fairly obvious - even ingenuous. Would a mother really feel she had to marry when she discovered she was pregnant, and move to another part of town? Does the playwright realize that the supposed salvation offered by one character to another at the conclusion is really a condemnation?
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Copyright 1997 David Mackler