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Theater review: Star power drives this family drama

Before my theater date and I even set foot in Signature’s Ark Theatre, we received fair warning of what was about to occur onstage.

See at the Signature, patrons are allowed to carry in their drinks. Yeah, you’ll need it, the young bartender says as he pours my friend some red wine. He was right, but in a totally good way.

“Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill,” the latest from hot young playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo (“Really Really”), touches upon many subjects during this tightly run production. There’s homosexuality, divorce, adultery, insecurity, loneliness and weight issues.

This might seem downright depressing, but Colaizzo delivers this intense family drama in a way that’s at times funny and poignant. Plus Signature has assembled a top-notch cast led by star Christine Lahti and director Michael Kahn, of the Shakespeare Theatre Company, to pull it off. These two high-profile names alone should indicate this show could do no wrong.

The Oscar (and Golden Globe and Emmy) winner stars as Carly, a stay-at-home mom whose sons have grown and left home and whose husband spends much time on the road for work. But with a photographer coming by the next day to snap her family and her prize-winning bouquet of flowers for the local newsletter, Carly is in overdrive. However, all is not picture-perfect in this household.

All of the family members have their own personal issues, and for 95 minutes, viewers will watch as this family tries to deal them and with each other. Chairs will be tossed, walls broken, pillows ripped apart and milk spilled. (Lamps will fall, but that’s really the house’s fault.) Special kudos must be given to the set team that has to rebuild this house day after day.

Her character may be flawed, but Lahti is absolutely flawless in her portrayal of this uptight suburban housewife trying to keep things together. Her reactions to everything that’s going on in her life are absurdly amusing. When hearing about a friend’s divorce on the phone, she’s in the closet admiring herself in a fur coat. Or she’s remarking on the deck stain when her husband Louie announces he’s leaving her. Carly can be pleasant and motherly one moment, and then veer sharply the next, and Lahti does it all seamlessly.

Christopher McFarland is a wonderful surprise here as the older son, Tommy. Of all the characters, he’s the most likable and accident-prone (see lamps above). There’s a warmth and honesty to Tommy that’s simply refreshing. With her son overweight and girlfriend-less, Carly is on his case, especially after hearing he has given up a law career for working at a pizza parlor.

As the younger son, Chad, Anthony Bowden does a serviceable job. There are times when he doesn’t quite seem as natural in his performance as the others, but for the most part he’s good as the bratty college student who just wants to find his cellphone. It’s Brad’s coming out to his mom that sets the play in motion.

And Wayne Duvall, who’s perfectly understated as the husband who’s ready to give it all up, holds his own against Lahti’s steely Carly.

Watching any family get torn apart is not really entertaining, but “Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill” is certainly thought-provoking and shows that every family can have its own drama.


What: “Pride in the Falls of Autrey Mill”

Where: Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington

When: Through Dec. 8

Cost: $40 and up

Info: 703/820-9771;

Gail Choochan: 540/374-5000 |