Welcome Home, Dean Charbonneau

Adam Rapp is a prolific playwright and novelist. His latest play, The Metal Children, is currently playing at The Vineyard Theatre - I’ll see it later this week. On Monday night though, The Public presented, as part of their New Work Now free reading series, a reading of Rapp’s in-development project, Welcome Home, Dean Charbonneau, which, in my opinion, is welcome back to town at any time.

Welcome Home concerns the Charbonneau family who, along with family friends, are gathered to greet favorite son, Dean, a soldier who’s just returned from a tour in Iraq. At this point in the play’s development process, it is 75 minutes with no intermission so there really weren’t acts but I’d say the play can be divided into two segments: waiting for Dean and hearing from Dean. And both are wonderfully written. The first segment finds family and friends readying a celebratory dinner as they watch the Packers game on TV. The dialogue here is so natural - it sounds just like the conversations families have: Commenting on what’s going on, telling their own jokes which would amuse no one but themselves, teasing one another. The family and friends have an easy rapport, showing off Rapp’s knack for realistic, conversational writing. (I mention this because I’ve been to a number of plays in which the characters speak as if they’re characters and in which the author is clearly trying to sound a certain way instead of just sounding that way.) In the second segment, Dean comes downstairs and we instantly see a shift in the room’s mood. Dean, like many other soldiers currently being depicted on film these days, had an intense experience in Iraq and is struggling to adjust to life back home. This manifests itself in some heart wrenching and disturbing ways, but somehow Rapp manages to make it all fit instead of the drama feeling forced.

Since this was a reading, all the actors were sitting on chairs set up in a semi-circle. There was no blocking, costumes or props, save for a stuffed monkey posing as a stuffed donkey. (Trust me, this works.) The stage directions were read aloud and the actors interacted with one another only by looking at each other. Still, you could tell this play has potential. I’d love to see it fully staged - up on its legs with the characters milling about and allowed to take ample time to digest and react to what’s going on. (And if it was produced with this cast, what a treat that’d be. Along for the ride, among others, were Michael McKean, Annette O’Toole (who was terrific in Rapp’s Kindness last season at Playwrights Horizons), Ellen Burstyn, David Wilson Barnes (who was great in Becky Shaw last season at Second Stage) and Christopher Denham as the title character. Denham is a favorite actor of Rapp’s, having appeared in several of his plays including the same Annette O’Toole production of Kindness last season. He’s a gifted actor and I am very much looking forward to watching his career.)

There are certainly areas for development. For example, I would like to see the character and struggle of Uncle Bro (Barnes) explored more. I would also like to see Dean physically interacting with more of the family and friends who are gathered to welcome him. And that’s not a pipe dream: Adam Rapp will soon head out to Seattle to do a workshop of the play. With all the theatres here in New York, and especially Rapp’s relationship with Playwrights Horizons, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Welcome Home, Dean Charbonneau somewhere around town in the next season or two. And I’m sure it will only get better!