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Parenting is a daunting task, one that comes with no rule book. Even when a parent, particularly a single one, desires the absolute best for a child, it's possible to steer a kid off course. Cyn (Mamie Gummer), the harried mom raising a tennis prodigy daughter, finds herself at a crossroads in Amanda Peet's provocative play Our Very Own Carlin McCullough, which hits the courts at the Geffen Playhouse for its world premiere.
Jay (Joe Tippett) discovers 10-year-old Carlin (Abigail Dylan Harrison) at the public tennis courts and recognizes her innate talent. He coaches the child practically for free while navigating the whims of her mother (Gummer), who both lusts after and fears this new influence in her daughter's life.
Amanda Peet, an actress whose conventional beauty is spiked with a refreshing awkwardness, has branched out into writing. Her play “The Commons of Pensacola” made a respectable showing at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2013 with a starry cast led by Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker.
Peet’s latest effort, “Our Very Own Carlin McCullough,” is having its world premiere at the Geffen Playhouse’s intimate Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater. It too is a solid effort, helped along by the scrupulous acting of Mamie Gummer and Joe Tippett.
The play, directed by Tyne Rafaeli, demonstrates the strengths as well as some of the limitations of a drama composed out of nuanced acting moments. There aren’t many false notes, but the imaginative scope is somewhat hemmed in by scenes that loiter rather than leap.
Amanda Peet takes a trio of characters we’ve seen before–a parent, a prodigiously talented child, and a dedicated coach–and weaves them together into the cliché-defying Our Very Own Carlin McCullough, as riveting a World Premiere as I’ve seen at the Geffen Playhouse, or just about anywhere else for that matter.
The titular Carlin (Abigail Dylan Harrison) may be only ten years old, but she’s already competing in tennis matches opposite girls six years her senior, which is why her single mom Cyn (Mamie Gummer) finds herself tempted when Stanford coach Salif (Tyee Tilghman), having witnessed Carlin’s prodigious talent on the court, assures Cyn that her daughter is a shoo-in for a full-scholarship (including room and board) at The Academy, where tennis stars are made, news that does not sit well with Jay (Joe Tippett), the offbeat coach who has help mold Carlin into the player she is today.
Amanda Peet may be best known as an actress, having appeared in films such as "The Whole Nine Yards" and "Syriana" and in TV shows, including the Duplass brothers' family dramedy, "Togetherness." But she's also a serious writer, with her second play, OUR VERY OWN CARLIN McCULLOUGH, now making its world premiere at The Geffen Playhouse. Peet says that for the Geffen production, with a cast that includes Mamie Gummer, Abigail Dylan Harrison, Caroline Heffernan, Tyee Tilghman and Joe Tippett, she was most interested in examining the mother-daughter relationship and "the idea of how to parent and to what degree you can keep your narcissism in check."
Amanda Peet once said, “As an actor, my main focus is finding good writing and attacking a good role,” and her acting credits reflect that philosophy. A familiar face on episodic television programs such as The Good Wife, How I Met Your Mother, and Brockmire, Peet has also racked up an impressive list of screen credits in such films as Syriana, The X Files: I Want to Believe, The Whole Nine Yards, and Something’s Gotta Give. Twice named as one of the sexiest women in the world, Peet is far from just another pretty Hollywood face as she has emerged as a gifted playwright. The proof of the pudding is in her second theatrical work, Our Very Own Carlin McCullough, a fascinating play currently on stage at the Geffen Playhouse.
Amanda Peet’s Our Very Own Carlin McCullough is a drama of subtle but pointed misdirection. This talky, triangular study of a 10-year-old tennis prodigy, her big-hearted coach, and her struggling single mother proves to be less straightforward than it appears, comfortable with keeping the audience off-balance and skewing their perceptions to meet those of its blinded characters. Some hardly telegraphed reveals arrive abruptly, while other seemingly foreshadowed twists never come. And yet, despite these maneuvers, the play never feels calculated. Only human.
Making its world premiere in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, Carlin McCullough — a last-minute addition to the Geffen Playhouse’s 2017-18 season, replacing Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig — serves as a resounding affirmation that Peet’s auspicious debut, the 2014 Off Broadway play The Commons of Pensacola, was no fluke. Indeed, this is an even stronger effort: patiently paced as it builds to a dramatic crescendo, and stuffed with provocative questions about parenthood, mentorship, and family structure which it neither answers nor skirts, but rather mulls over with care and intelligence.
At the outset, Our Very Own Carlin McCullough looks like it might be taking on the twisted authority figures who have dominated the news this last year with abuse scandals in USA Gymnastics, USA Swimming, the Canadian women's ski team and other amateur sports. But this new play, written by actress Amanda Peet, is actually something much more — a deep dive into the desperate parents, extreme training costs, gruesome politics and wrecked childhoods that are pretty much standard-issue in these worlds. All that, of course, makes these kids easy prey when there's a monster in the locker room. But let's not get ahead of ourselves just yet.
Amanda Peet's second playwrighting venture was originally crafted with “American Horror Story” mainstay Sarah Paulson in mind.
Now, the story of “Our Very Own Carlin McCullough” centers around the triangular relationship between Cyn (Mamie Gummer), her tennis prodigy of a daughter (Abigail Dylan Harrison at 10 and Caroline Heffernan at 17), and her daughter’s coach (Joe Tippett), who seeks to make her a champion. But in the beginning of her writing process, Peet was writing Cyn for her “old, old pal” Paulson.
“I was writing it for Sarah because she does a weird Georgian accent. And the character was a drunk, racist mom from Georgia in the original incarnation of the play,” Peet shared with Variety after the opening night performance at the Geffen Playhouse in Westwood.
After the script went through more rewrites and iterations, Peet envisioned Gummer for the role of the conflicted mother figure instead. “I’ve been a really big fan of Mamie’s for a long time, and I particularly felt like she was really good at both comedy and drama. So she was someone I thought about very early on for the part,” Peet said.
"Amanda Peet is perhaps best known as an actor—notably nuanced dramatic and comedic performances decorate her résumé with films like “The Whole Nine Yards” and “Syriana” and TV shows like “Togetherness” and “Brockmire.” But she’s currently reprising her role as a playwright. After penning the 2013 Off-Broadway production, “The Commons of Pensacola,” which starred Blythe Danner and Sarah Jessica Parker, her latest, “Our Very Own Carlin McCullough,” is running June 19, to July 29 at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles. The play follows the titular 10-year-old tennis prodigy as she’s caught between her longtime coach and conflicted mother. Mamie Gummer stars as Carlin's single mother, Cyn, in the Tyne Rafaeli–directed play. Peet recently spoke with us about how writing has made her a better actor and her roots with Backstage."
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