2005_05_arts_stokley.JPGNow that the weather has warmed up, the battier denizens of New York have returned to the street to hold their conversations with themselves for all to hear. The mother and daughter portrayed in Little Suckers, the new play by Andrew Irons that opened on Saturday at the Ohio, would feel right at home. Morrie (Erin Quinn Purcell) and Lindsay (Margie Stokley) have both watched the important men in their lives run away (husband and twin brother, respectively, with the latter pursuing the former) and the two women cope by hosting tea parties for a trio of invisible ladies. When Lindsay’s brother Kennedy (Ryan Bronz) returns, she will not let him in, and he sits outside her room listening to her tell her “guests” about the past, which is also revealed intermittently in a visual way as the cast acts out episodes from this dysfunctional family’s history. Their troubles don’t seem all that odd, really, or at least the root of them isn’t – the early divorce of the parents and the father’s subsequent banishment. But Morrie and the twins don’t manage very well, as she disappears for days at a time to prevent herself from getting sucked dry by her leech-children (hence the title of the play, at least in part); Kennedy decides to become a samurai warrior; and Lindsay, though she yearns for normalcy, is clearly not up to being the stable rock of the family, and so the tea party begins. The other real character, Bucklin (played with impressive precision by Arthur Aulisi, who also plays the father in his brief, semi-offstage cameos), is an editor who falls in love with Morrie when she comes to take care of his dog, and he treats her so well that you almost think he could get the whole family back on its feet. But how much fun would a happy ending be, really?

With all this complication, confusion, and incipient craziness, it would be surprising if the plot were presented in a straightforward, easy-to-follow way. As it is, the blend of past with present, fiction with reality, gets to be a little tough on the audience. Again, no one expects plays to adhere to a beginning-middle-end arc, especially when they’re off-off-Broadway and dealing with difficult issues like those faced by this family. But when the audience is unsure of what’s happened and is dwelling on that even as the play goes forward, it can be an unnecessary distraction, and this happens more than once in Little Suckers. Also, the way Kennedy and Lindsay break from their older selves to show their childhood is slightly awkward; even though the actors perform the younger roles gamely, it may have worked better to have had actual children come in. Of course, it becomes clear that the two haven’t really grown up much at all in any case, but that’s besides the point.

Throughout the play, almost continuously, a soundtrack of wind and rain plays; the family lives in the Southeast and hurricanes have an important place in their lives, both metaphorically and literally. The deadbeat dad was an author, and an enormous sheaf of papers he left behind as well as the idea of shaping memories through words form another thread that runs throughout the play. Despite the occasional points when these threads get tangled up too much in Irons’ effort at 2005_05_arts_andhow.JPGdramatizing dysfunction, for the most part they weave together well enough to make Little Suckers both elegant and enjoyable, with a cast that inhabits the set and their lonely, desperate characters easily and convincingly.

Andhow!, the producing company, has only been around for five years, but this show has strengths that make you think they’ll be here for many more.

Details: Little Suckers is at the Ohio Theatre, 66 Wooster St., until Jun. 25, all shows at 8pm. Tickets are at Smarttix.

Photos by Hal Stucker.