“Royal Blood” presented by Onward Ho! Productions at West of Lenin

Family dysfunction, it’s been a theatrical staple from ancient Greek theatre to modern times. And so comes the world premiere of Sonya Schneider’s wrenching new play about a very dysfunctional family.

Grouchy old Father, brilliantly played by Todd Jefferson Moore, is sinking into old age, awaiting death from cancer. Deb, the daughter who lives with him, has the mind of a child, doesn’t know her brother has recently committed suicide, and certainly can’t live on her own. Dorothy, the other daughter, a highly successful journalist, has come home from Europe, to face the various family crises including a terrible relationship with her daughter Cassiopeia and the assumption that she will give up her dreams and take care of simpleminded Deb.

Each character is portrayed with finesse and exactness. Amy Love as dim-witted Deb will break your heart. Mari Nelson as the competent, successful Dorothy captures all the anguish of one trying to meet both the demands of self as well as those of family. Nicole Merat as daughter Cassiopeia combines arrogance with insecurity as she struggles with her identity and adolescence.

The characters use words as knives, slicing and cutting; yet embedded within the wounding diatribes, beneath the jealousies and misunderstandings are wonderful flashes of humor. At the bottom of all this are references to the dead mother who imagined they were the perfect family and cousins of Princess Di.

Director Laurel Pilar Garcia and set designer Jennifer Zeyl have created an atmosphere that places you, the audience, as if you are neighbors spying on this unfortunate family next door. The set is the back yard of a California house with its porch, grass, and flowers. Instead of sitting in raked theatre seats, the audience members are in lawn chairs and benches on the same level as the stage.

Two minor carps. If the reference to an early haircutting and the actual happening later were meant to symbolize Dorothy as powerful Samson, it’s a bit much. And the Adam character, the Japanese neighbor played by David Hsieh isn’t well integrated into the drama. The father’s prejudice against him, Adam’s obsequious persona seemed an intrusion from a whole other story. But other than that, this is a powerful work you won’t easily forget.

Through April 4 at West of Lenin, 203 N. 36 St., Seattle, 206 352-1777.

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