There’s nothing like a good, American, dysfunctional family drama, just in time for the holidays. Meet the Horvaths, the crime family at the center of “Vengeance is the Lord’s,” a juicy helping of dark meat served up by the Huntington Theatre Company, directed by Peter DuBois.
The Horvath clan is revealed in a series of anti-Norman Rockwellian holiday portraits, from a Thanksgiving dinner to a Christmas gathering, to a New Years brawl to a grim Easter dinner. Each event is marked by the return of Mathew (Larry Pine), the family’s tough-nosed, hard-drinking, philandering patriarch, to the home of his salty ex-wife, Margaret (Roberta Wallach), who struggles to stay sociable as she limps around on stiffened joints.
Joining Mathew and Margaret are their three grown children: Woodrow (Lee Tergesen), Mathew’s tough, pragmatic heir apparent; Roanne, the feisty middle child (Katie Kresiler); and Donald (Karl Baker Olson), the youngest, who, as a sensitive liberal is the family’s black sheep. The family’s discussions are liquor-fueled and so is their empire: Mathew and Margaret ran a series of bars before settling into their current enterprise, which involves selling stolen auto parts.
It is between talking business that the family lights on the play’s central argument. The Horvaths are haunted by the absence of one family member who should be at their table but can’t; who years ago was brutally murdered in one of Mathew and Margaret’s bars under ambiguous circumstances.
Margaret wants to visit the murderer in his prison cell. It is her bid to offer mercy and in this way restore some kind of peace. With the murderer up for parole, however, the rest of her family is not in a peaceful mood. As battle lines are drawn, Donald, a once precocious child who seems to have been stunted in his growth, begins to question not only his family’s judgment in this matter but their entire system of values.
Things are tense with the Horvaths and get more so, when a conflict at work intertwines itself into the debate—a heated battle over just what this family believes in and what keeps it together, where staying together is the one thing they each seem to value above all.
Superbly acted and cleverly written, “Vengeance is the Lord’s” is a great night of theater that should serve as a catalyst for some equally great discussions between the courses of this season’s feasts. Playwright Bob Glaudini, who has also written TVs “NYPD Blue,” roots his musings on huge questions of justice, loyalty and mercy in the compelling conflicts of rich characters who speak with force and passion.
The play is also a feast for the eyes as the Horvaths are housed in a truly impressive piece of architecture, designed by Eugene Lee. Surrounded by a menacing chain link fence, it features an innocent shingled exterior and, a series of homey, modestly furnished rooms revealed by a slowly revolving turntable. The movement built into the set plays well with the cadence of Glaudini’s sharp dialogue and the play’s steadily escalating tension.