The Manor by Steppenwolf Theater Company Through Oct. 8 Baltimore Museum of Art McCullough|Smith Theatre at Baltimore Museum of Art and the Ted Mann Concert Hall in Washington’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Runs through Oct. 8, 2017. Tickets: $20 to $60. Baltimore Museum of Art, 410 Mount Vernon Place; 410-396-2787; boartheater.org / www.marriottsounds.com/manor
Steppenwolf Theatre Company knows how to put on a good production, but I’ve never seen its shows turn me into an instant fan.
They’re of course high-quality pieces, but even well-made shows still don’t inherently reach an audience, or make people stop and take note. For whatever reason, they never make me fall in love. But the company has a reputation for being the company that best achieves that dream.
With “The Manor,” I didn’t realize the company would turn me off as quickly as it did. I mean, it’s a big fall play and the costumes are perfect, but the production doesn’t do enough to grab you.
In “The Manor,” Catherine (Emily Swallow) and her husband Kevin (Alex Karpovsky) have been planning a wedding, but there’s one small issue: Kevin doesn’t have a real job.
When the corporate banks start to increase their lending standards, Kevin finds himself without a steady job, and a lot of money. Kevin wants to stay in his hometown of Sidneyville, Ill., and does what he can to get Kevin a job so that he can be a better dad to their two children — only to run into his old boss, Madison (Jacqueline McKenzie). Madison isn’t one of the backstabbing women Catherine just now discovered wants Kevin back, but she’s always been after the best for Kevin. Madison won’t stop until Kevin brings her into the fold with Madison’s bookkeeper sister, Mary (Shelby St. Clair).
That’s where the setup starts, and the moment you think you’ve got a grip on the writing, the play plunges into quicksand. One problem, though, it’s easy to keep the story moving, but far more difficult to give a character some emotional depth.
Through it all, Catherine and Kevin are trying to figure out what’s happening in their world. Everything’s so damn boring and predictable that their frustration just drags down the performance.
It’s an easy show to get into, but it’s even easier to get out of.