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.
THE AFFAIR Reveals Its Big Killer Secrets - Recap of Season 3, Episode 9 (Tim Teeman)
It is rare to cheer the television set these days, but watching Helen (Maura Tierney) bundle her insane, awful parents into a fortress-like panic room in the basement of their Montauk home was one such moment.
Thank you, The Affair, for that—and for a brilliant episode so crackling with tension and (darnit) almost the revelation of what the hell has been so corrosively eating away at Noah Solloway (Dominic West). But wow, fellow fans, you were holding your breath too, right? OK, let’s breathe together again. We began the episode with Helen, still laboring under the guilt of having knocked over Scotty Lockhart (Colin Donnell) last season, after Alison (Ruth Wilson)—her successor as Noah’s wife after their affair—pushed him in front of the car Helen was driving.
Noah took the rap for it, because he felt guilty for having the affair, and because he wanted Helen to care for their children, and because he loved Alison.
In jail we know Noah has been tortured by a sadistic guard called Gunther (Brendan Fraser). Noah’s beat up mentally too, and we don’t know what is real and what is not in his present mind.
In a show that centers on the different viewpoints of characters anyway, that uncertainty has made the objective reality issue even harder to decode.
Somebody tried to kill Noah, and so this season also has been an attempted murder mystery. Noah has been wearing a bandage on his neck for officially a very long time. We are all over the bandage. Unless an alien is going to mewl forth from that damn wound, let’s lose the bandage.
After breaking up with hot doc Vic (Omar Metwally), who could not be doing with Helen’s continued twisted love for Noah, Helen decides to take her kids to Montauk, and her parents, driving past the spot where she killed Scotty.
Her mind is untethered most of the time—but then so is everyone’s on this show—and especially so after Noah’s sexual assault of her the night before. Her parents, menacingly marinated in therapy and yoga, have gone from being harrying bullies—at least it seemed on first sight—to karmic sweetie-pies. Does Vic do yoga, her mother asks: He had great energy and a strong core (we agree, we agree).
Helen confesses that she and Vic have broken up, which her parents take as a sign of her brokenness. She is falling apart, a wreck, her mother says, adding that therapy would be the answer.
Helen rushes out to the Lobster Roll, because where else to go for respite but where all this agony began—the cafe where her family, then with Noah at its head and now without, ate and where Alison first met him.
Today she sees pies made by Mrs. Lockhart, and buys three out of guilt for killing her son.
At home, Helen’s mother is boasting about the cauliflower roasted in coconut oil, the children are praising Vic for his culinary and chess tutelage, and her parents want to know what happened.
Then Helen’s daughter Stacy (Abigail Dylan Harrison) reveals she knows that Alison housed Noah in the basement the day before. All hell breaks loose. The other children want to know why she hasn’t told them.
Harrison’s acting is so subtle and beautiful to watch: terrified she has done something wrong, and full of upset at the state of her family.
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