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‘Bottom of the World’ looks flat

Bottom091510_optToo many stories refuse to crystallize into a satisfying drama

BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW

Atlantic Theater Company's Stage 2 space is dedicated to cultivating upcoming writers and their works under development. Anybody entering its underground 99-seat space should scarcely expect perfection and might want to adjust their receptors accordingly.

Let's only briefly discuss Lucy Thurber's "Bottom of the World," which opened Tuesday at Atlantic Stage 2. Her flawed effort is not likely to go further than this handsome if under-performed production.

Thurber is a highly talented writer as proved by her "Scarcity," which Atlantic premiered on its main stage in 2007. Set in rural Massachusetts, the drama studied two bright kids desperately trying to break free of their loving but toxic white trash parents. The play was funny, heartbreaking and terribly real.

"Bottom of the World" again regards siblings and parents — as well as gender and racial issues — but this time Thurber attempts a gentler, less realistic style of play meant to indirectly meld contrasting stories.

A young woman in the city, Abby (Crystal A. Dickinson) is coping badly with the untimely death of her sister Kate (Jessica Love), a novelist now hovering as a benevolent spirit. As Abby reads Kate's final novel, its countrified characters of yesteryear flicker to life — complete with a barn dance — and their bittersweet doings intercuts Abby's joyless contemporary times. A subplot (among several others) involving a suburban couple divorcing after 35 years promises some comical relief but soon peters out.

Despite occasional lovely passages, the numerous storylines fail to bond into a satisfying or, indeed, coherent whole. Somehow I get the impression that Thurber has revised "Bottom of the World" so many times in previous workshops that its original impulse has dissipated into odd shards adding up to, well, who knows what the heck this unfocused 80-minute drama is supposed to be about.

Director Caitriona McLaughlin's eight actors can do little with such an impossibly fragmented script and mostly give flat performances.

Set designer Walt Spangler delivers a striking construction of exploding lumber that suggests both the circumstances of Kate's implied death and rustic environs for the secondary story. The most agreeable element of the show proves to be the live, thoroughly charming, bluegrass music credited to Tim Lawrence, Robert Kaplowitz , Alexander Sovronsky and Bennett Sullivan.

"Bottom of the World" continues through Oct. 3 at Atlantic Stage 2, 330 W. 16th St., New York. Call (212) 645-1242 or visit www.atlantictheater.org.

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