Traumas from our childhood frequently haunt us for the rest of our lives. In her uneven family melodrama Seatbelts Required, playwright Kimberly Demmary writes about three half-sisters scarred by the cruel and random behavior of their manipulative mother.
By Demmary’s account, the script is loosely based on her own experience. Directed by Julie Fergus, the play works best when it recreates the animosity and hurt among these wounded individuals. The dialogue rings true and the performers, Kathleen Bosworth and Fergus especially, are grounded in their roles.
The play takes place in the family home where middle sister Agnes (Demmary) has cared for their parent during her final illness.
Her siblings, Janet (Bosworth) and Maggie (Fergus), have long-since gone their separate ways but are now back home for the funeral. Janet, tense and anxious, is married with two kids. The strong-willed and self-absorbed Maggie, her mom’s favorite, is a career woman with the rough edges of someone who speaks her mind and has little care for the consequences.
The two sisters resent each other and can hardly speak without snarling. Tempers flare, mostly around their mom’s lifelong preference for Maggie, the youngest. Meanwhile Agnes, the least secure of the three, is desperately seeking some rapprochement, a rebinding of the family’s fractured ties and an acknowledgment of her role as dutiful caregiver to someone who deserved less.
What’s not as convincing are the particulars of this play's back story. Although anecdotes about a monster mom abound, she remains a one dimensional bogeywoman, and inconsistent besides. On the one hand she’s described as a heavy drinker and as someone who goes to strip clubs on “Tassel Tuesdays,” even as an invalid. On the other she’s portrayed as a person whose cupboard reflects a mania for order.
We also don’t hear much about the men in this lady’s life, except for the sisters’ oblique reference to different dads. Specifics are wanting.
The end effect is a play with a vital central dynamic, but one whose storytelling is spotty, inconsistent, and in need of pruning.
As Agnes, Demmary handles herself well at the climax, but it takes time for her to find her footing.
The Primitive Stage, 21610 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills; through Sept. 19, (818) 685-9907, www.brownpapertickets.com.
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