BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
"Death and family brings out the worst," remarks Gwen, the wisest and saddest person in "Thinner Than Water," a sharp new play about three siblings behaving badly while their unloved father lies dying in a hospital.
An acridly funny study in modern consanguinity, "Thinner Than Water" opened Tuesday at The Cherry Pit, a snug 90-seat space in the far West Village sure to be packed once word gets around about this hot new show from LAByrinth Theater Company.
With many good works like "Jack Goes Boating" and "Our Lady of 12st Street" to its credit, LAByrinth presents new plays by new authors. Melissa Ross is the debuting playwright and offers here a dandy consideration of family ties that bind more tightly than people like to admit.
Starting with a woeful birthday party, Ross' story involves three half-siblings linked by the same neglectful father.
Renee (Elizabeth Canavan) is the stressed-out eldest, a middle-aged woman putting her not-so-patient husband (David Zayas) and kids forever on hold to deal resentfully with the vague ways of her brother and sister.
Gary (Alfredo Narciso) is the pothead middle child who lives in his mom's garage while idly working in a comic book shop. Cassie (Lisa Joyce) is the flaky youngest, a waif who keeps on breaking up with a long-suffering boyfriend (Aaron Roman Weiner).
The crisis is the imminent death of their father, which sparks different reactions. Exploding individually, they eventually realize their own similarities to not so dear and now-dead dad. His nice girlfriend Gwen (Deirdre O'Connell in a typically warm, wonderful portrayal) helps the sibs to get a grip and get back to their hopefully better selves.
Written in a dozen or so fast scenes, the two-act play is crafted neatly with embraceable characters trading spurts of funny talk. The insightful human truth behind their actions is rendered lightly and gracefully by Ross, whose laconic, casually profane conversations are a treat to hear.
Lent an extra glow by O'Connell's wistful radiance, the company brightly performs the play under Mimi O'Donnell's crisp direction. The fingertip intimacy of the staging makes the excellent acting appear all the more natural and delightful. Set designer Lee Savage and lighting designer Japhy Weideman create half a dozen locations fluently and minimally. Let's hope LAByrinth can extend the show's engagement so more people can take in Ross' fruitful and funny shaking of a contemporary family tree.
"Thinner Than Water" continues through March 6 at The Cherry Pit, 155 Bank St., New York. Call (212) 513-1080 or visit www.labtheater.org.