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Drama Texan Style: ‘Unbroken Circle’ lands at the Woodlawn


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The Biblical description of a jealous God “visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” would be a fitting epigraph to much world drama from Agamemnon to All My Children. Some of the most notable works of American theater, including Long Day’s Journey into Night, Buried Child, August: Osage County, and Other Desert Cities, are constructed around a family gathering at which kinfolk expose lacerating secrets of the clan. Unbroken Circle, whose author, James Wesley, reports he drew on personal history, follows the same familiar familial formula. Set in Galveston in 1970 immediately following the funeral of an abusive patriarch, the play, which has already enjoyed an off-Broadway New York run, is receiving its Texas debut at San Antonio’s Woodlawn Theatre.

Travis, the deceased bully and pedophile, is never seen on stage, but he remains a toxic presence at the Galveston homestead, where revelations pile up as rapidly and abundantly as corpses in Macbeth. Great Aunt June (Angela Abbott Hoeffler), a hyperbolically obnoxious Christian fundamentalist and closet alcoholic, has traveled from Tulsa for the reading of the will, which she is sure favors her. Edna (Meredith Bell Alvarez), who lives in Austin, returns to her parents’ house, though for reasons made clear in the second of the play’s two acts, it has been 25 years since she last set foot in it. Because he lost his job and needed a place to live, her twin brother, Bobby (Matthew Byron Cassi), had been invited by their mother, Ruby (Sherrie Shirky), to move in with his wife Cheryl (Beth Erwin) and their two daughters, Cathy (Lauren Magnum) and Patti (Avery Dullnig).

The odious bits of family history that are laid bare as if on cue are depressing but not surprising. Though Wesley has contrived an intricate network of hidden ignominy, the emotional effect of exposure is numbness more than catharsis or illumination. Nevertheless, director Greg Hinojosa has assembled a cast worth watching. Shirky’s nuanced performance respects the complexities of a new widow with reasons not to grieve. “You’ve become nothing but a bitter old woman,” says June to Ruby. Shirky offers a convincing refutation. And Cassi’s Bobby, who insists that: “The only people in this family that got brains are the girls,” makes it clear why he believes that but also why he errs.

Unbroken Circle

7:30pm Thu-Sat, 3pm Sun
Woodlawn Theatre
1924 Fredricksburg
(210) 267-8388
Through Oct 5


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