A modern family, torn apart, in Premiere Stages’ ‘Linger’

PHOTOS BY MIKE PETERS

Robby Haltiwanger, left, Danielle Skraastad and Michael Frederic co-star in “Linger” at the Premiere Stages series at Kean University in Union.

“Linger” is an intense stunner of a play. It’s also significantly flawed. In this new family drama, currently being presented by the Premiere States series at Kean University in Union, the positives are so compelling you wish the negatives weren’t there. But they gnaw at you, nevertheless.

Or, I really should say, “negative,” since it’s really just one flaw in Glen Ridge resident Craig Garcia’s script that bothered me so much: The serious lack of believability in a crucial scene in the first act. I’m going to refrain from describing the scene, and what makes it so hard to swallow, so as not to ruin the element of surprise. But it shows two characters, independent of each other, making the same bizarre decision regarding a certain matter for no good reason. And this decision affects everything that follows.

It’s not the actors’ fault, of course, and they, under the direction of John J. Wooten, still manage to make the play nearly as powerful as Garcia intended it to be.

The action starts in the upscale living room of a seemingly normal, modern American family — middle-aged James (Michael Frederic) and Maryanne (Danielle Skraastad) and their teenagers, Mike (Robby Haltiwanger) and Summer (Sarah Kathryn Makl). They’re grappling with a bunch of ordinary problems: James and Maryanne are debating the timing and length of an upcoming family vacation. Summer is spending too much time on her cellphone. Mike is trying to get out of going to a wedding he thinks will be boring.

Will Ehren and Danielle Skraastad in “Linger.”

Then the police arrive.

It seems that Mike, a jock who hasn’t shown any previous proclivity for violence, is suspected of being involved in a brutal bullying incident at his school. James and Maryanne are certain there must be some mistake. Mike professes his innocence.

As we learn more about really happened in school, a rift develops between James, who remains adamant that his son could not have committed such a crime, and Maryanne, who, when presented with some compelling evidence, begins to doubt that which previously could not be doubted.

I’ll stop with plot summary there (in order not to spoil anything) except to say that we eventually meet the victim, Bobby (Will Ehren), and Bobby’s father, Gerald (Jonathan C. Kaplan), who seems to be experiencing a kind of unbearable, overwhelming anger.

Several scenes are very disturbing: This is not a play for the faint of heart.

This play, the winner of the 2018 Premiere Play Festival, also tackles the way our lives have been changed by social media: Once Mike becomes a suspect, a virtual whirlwind is unleashed through the community’s computers and cellphones, with rumors spread and pieces of evidence shared. The wave of cyber-negativity that comes with the community’s presumption of Mike’s guilt takes a big toll on Summer, in particular.

Garcia is a bold, ambitious writer, and has a knack for getting under your skin. In an interview included in the show’s program, he says that he rewrites a lot, and goes through multiple drafts.

I think one more rewrite, though, to fix what’s probably a fixable problem regarding the scene I mentioned above, could make “Linger” an unqualified success. (And while Garcia’s at it, a new title might make sense, too; “Linger” doesn’t really give anyone any clue as to what the play is all about.)

The Premiere Stages series at Kean University in Union will present “Linger” at the Bauer Boucher Theatre Center through July 29. Visit premierestagesatkean.com.

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