Off Broadway production lacks realism, execution

courtesy of Wee Man Productions

Secrets, adultery, abuse, distrust and alcohol — “Hounds of War” has more than enough elements to make up an interesting family drama, but this overload ultimately becomes a histrionic mess. Directed by Mark Cirnigliaro, the production quickly turns from a simple family conflict into a soap opera.

The Dorothy Strelsin Theater, a tiny black box theater, seats about 30 audience members. The stage presents one room with hardwood floors, living room furniture, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a few family photos.

The intimate set design welcomes audience members into the characters’ lives, but this sympathy is eventually overpowered by a complicated storyline with trite lines and unnecessary plot twists.

“Hounds of War,” Wee Man Productions’ inaugural play, tells the story of a broken family in desperate need of repair. Jim, an overbearing military father, moves with his wife and their two vastly different sons from New York City to a quiet town in upstate New York where homes are isolated and wild dogs roam the streets.

Instead of confronting their familial discord head on, the characters decide to run away in search of a much-needed “fresh start.” But, as expected, they eventually run right back to their problems and dysfunction, smacking into them with full force and no safeguards.

Cirnigliaro pulls out every trick in the book — he imbues each character with layer upon layer of cliché complexities, hitting the audience over the head with obvious points such as Jim’s alcoholism, his wife’s adultery and his son’s homosexuality. The result is a muddled melodrama.

These intricacies would be realistic in a feature film or television show because there would be more time to develop them, but the details immediately lose their ardor when clumped together in a short play. Cirnigilaro’s goal was a worthy one, but it was a mistake to assume it could be achieved in a mere 90 minutes.

The production could perhaps have been salvaged with skillful acting. However, despite the play featuring several known performers — Christopher LaPanta played Jim and Tony Head played his new neighbor Henry — the acting was subpar, adding to the show’s chaotic nature. The performances feel stiff in the first half and highly embellished in the second, as though the actors are trying to overcompensate for the banal script.

LaPanta in particular would have conveyed his character’s insecurities better if he did not try to compete with his lines — his over-the-top performance distracts the audience from the overall point.

“Hounds of War” was set up for failure from the outset. Executed properly, the play might have simply been added to an already long list of cliché family dramas. As it is, Cirnigliaro’s piece failed to produce realism and left audiences confused. Most likely, few people will pay it any mind after the 90 minutes are up and they walk out of the theater.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, April 2 print edition. Tatiana Baez is assistant managing editor. Email her at tbaez@nyunews.com.

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