A Family of Role-Players Is Shaken by a Secret in Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife, Opening in NYC Dec. 1

News   A Family of Role-Players Is Shaken by a Secret in Richard Nelson's Rodney's Wife, Opening in NYC Dec. 1 A job in scenic Italy, with use of a villa, would seem to be ideal for an aging American actor who finds that his career is not exactly skyrocketing. Good food, nice view, plenty of vino.
David Strathairn in Rodney's Wife
David Strathairn in Rodney's Wife Photo by Joan Marcus

Stuck filming a spaghetti western in the 1960s, with Italy doubling as the American Old West, Rodney — of Richard Nelson's new play, Rodney's Wife, opening Dec. 1 at Playwrights Horizons — finds he is living in a house that is as tense as any Hitchcock plot, though the horror is much more intimate, domestic and internal.

This working vacation includes the company of his younger second wife, a former actress named Fay (played by Haviland Morris); his clingy widowed sister, Eva (played by Maryann Plunkett); his twentysomething daughter, Lee (played by Jessica Chastain); his manager Henry (played by John Rothman); and Lee's boyfriend, Ted (Jesse Pennington).

David Strathairn plays Rodney, who is faced with a life changing family secret — familial sexual impropriety — that challenges the roles his family members have played for years. The frame of the play has Fay's grown daughter (also played by Morris) introducing the story, which, she says, is based on an entry from her mother's diary from 1962.

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Playwright Richard Nelson returns to a favorite theme — family members who have to face themselves in settings that are foreign to them — in his latest play. Rodney's Wife made its New York City debut Nov. 12 at Playwrights Horizons' mainstage. Jessica Chastain, playing Rodney's daughter, and Jesse Pennington, as love interest Ted, are new to the company of actors who premiered the work at Williamstown Theatre Festival this past summer.

Performances continue to Dec. 19 at Playwrights Horizons' Off-Broadway home on West 42nd Street.

According to PH, "Rodney's Wife takes place in 1962, in Rome, where a fading movie star (David Strathairn) and his wife of 10 years (Haviland Morris) find themselves entangled in an unraveling web of secrets and lies that threatens to undermine their family's tenuous bond. The latest work by the acclaimed writer-director Richard Nelson...is both an elegiac look at Americans finding themselves in a foreign land, and a white-hot observation of a family torn apart by sexual impropriety."

As the WTF production was in a thrust staging, the Mainstage space at Playwrights Horizons is slightly reconfigured, a spokesman said. The first row has been removed to allow the stage to thrust out beyond the proscenium.

"This will give it a more intimate feel — we're in the room with them as opposed to being separated by the proscenium," a spokesman explained.

Nelson's My Life With Albertine, James Joyce's The Dead, Goodnight Children Everywhere, Franny's Way, among others, have been presented Playwrights Horizons.

Nelson's plays in recent years all had the idea of "coming of age" in common, and the theme continues here.

"Without question... I saw those plays — Goodnight Children [Everywhere], Madame Melville, Franny's Way — as a trilogy. A 'coming of age' trilogy would be a good way of calling it."

In 2002, when asked why he has focused on young people's intimate and romantic choices at this point in his work, he said, "I think a combination of things: I'm in my 50s and have daughters in their adolescence. Having children, watching your children grow up at a certain age, you look at them and you look at yourself. Adolescence becomes a very rich territory. My themes have always been a sense of being out of place, out of time, a sense of exile — whether The General From America or Two Shakespearean Actors. I learned there was an extension of that theme — adolescence. The connection between adolescence and the feeling of exile is a very tight one."

Designers for Rodney's Wife are Susan Hilferty (scenic and costume), David Weiner (lighting) and Scott Lehrer (sound).

The performance schedule for Rodney's Wife is Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.

Tickets are $55.

For ticket information to all Playwrights Horizons productions, call (212) 279-4200 or visit www.playwrightshorizons.org.