Eighteen-year-old Maggie (Cathryn Wake) keeps saying everything is “grand” in “The Seedbed,” a powerful new drama that is receiving its world premiere at the New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch through Nov. 15. But you know that it isn’t. Her mere presence in the Irish house — where she has come to visit, mere months after leaving to live in Amsterdam — sets her mother and stepfather, Hannah (Gina Costigan) and Thomas (Kevin Hogan), on edge.
But what are those nervous glances everyone exchanges with each other really about? Playwright Bryan Delaney reveals what’s really going on, little by little, as the play progresses, until the entire painful truth is out in the open, like the dirt on Thomas’ shirt (he had been working outdoors before Maggie arrives, and keeps forgetting to change his clothes in the play’s opening scenes).
Most of the action takes place in Thomas and Hannah’s homey living room. This middle-aged, comfortably middle-class couple is meeting Maggie’s fiancé, Mick (Michael Louis Serafin-Wells), for the first time. Mick seems like a reasonably nice guy. Maybe he’s a little rough around the edges, but he’s a successful businessman — an Englishman who owns a flower shop in Amsterdam — and he and Maggie seem very happy. No, they’re more than happy: They’re radiant soulmates eager to start their life together. Thomas seems to be the only one bothered by their age difference: Mick is a few decades older than Maggie.
Thomas, in fact, can barely contain his contempt for Mick. But that’s just one of the things creating the constantly escalating tension in this exceedingly uncomfortable family gathering, at which everyone has a dark side that eventually surfaces, in one form or another.
Delaney and director SuzAnne Barabas do a good job of letting the tension build and build, offering small pieces of the underlying puzzle along the way — and giving their characters some startling outbursts — but not really explaining everything until the last scene, which contained a revelation I didn’t see coming, but that finally made everything that came before make sense. I was totally absorbed — looking for subtle hints, trying to figure these complex characters out – and at the performance I attended, last weekend, everyone else in the audience seemed to be right there with me.
“The Seedbed” runs at NJ Rep through Nov. 15; visit njrep.org.