Saturday, January 16, 2010

Theater Review: Safe Home

Michael Cullen
This Home seems Anything but Safe
By Lauren Yarger
The Hollytree home in Buffalo, NY seems anything but a safe place to come back to, but that's what Jim (Michael Cullen) wishes for his son, Lucky (Eric Miller), before he goes off to the Korean conflict in Sean Cullen’s first play, Safe Home, in its world premiere Off Broadway at Women’s Interart Center.

The relationship between father and son hasn’t always been easy, nor have the relationships between Lucky and his brother, Pat (Erik Saxvik), or any of the family with mother, Ada (Cynthia Mace).

Lucky, who forms a friendship with the foreman at the local plant where his father spends days burning his hands in acid as a radiator man, might just steal his father’s job away. Most of the time, he spends his time drinking and gambling and avoiding his family. As an escape, he enlists over his family’s objections and is sent to Korea.

While he’s there, he writes a series of letters to local girl Claire Baggot (Katy Wright Mead) who falls in love with him. The Hollytrees are unaware of their relationship. The dysfunction continues as the mother attacks Pat with a screwdriver, the parents all but ignore their youngest son, John (Ian Hyland), they mistreat Claire when they do find out about her relationship with Lucky and reveal that they, themselves, don’t have much of a loving husband-wife relationship either.

Why they all hate each other, we’re never sure. Playwright Cullen, who portrays Lt. Cmdr. William Harbison in Broadway’s South Pacific and who has been in the movies "Michael Clayton" and "Revolutionary Road," apparently based the characters own his own family members, so maybe he knows, but for us, there isn’t enough back story. The point of the play is somewhat elusive as well, obscured in the disjointed jumping of years from scene to scene so that the action is out of order. Claire comes to see the Hollytrees after her relationship with Lucky has ended, then a couple of scenes later, we see how she and Lucky meet, for example. There isn’t any reason to jump around in time and the story would have more impact if told chronologically.

Also confusing is the use of nicknames for each of the three boys. Lucky also is Jimmy, Pat also is known as Tooth and John is Tojo. You really can end up scratching your head wondering what year you’re in and who’s on the stage. The result is that we’re too distracted to engage and the revelation of a tragedy out of order gives the play an early climax with no where to go.

Directed by Chris Henry, Michael Cullen is the standout here, creating a strong characterization of the blue-collar father working to support a family he doesn’t understand. Mead also is a ray of sunshine as the effervescent and wholesome Claire.

The Holllytrees’ shabby and dark home is interestingly designed by Alex Koch to incorporate the theater’s back wall and real windows while using scrim as part of the design on which to show a number of video projections. The open windows were welcome to help diffuse smoke and the rather overwhelming stench of numerous prop cigarettes used in the very small space.

Safe Home is being presented by Chris Henry and Royal Family Productions through Jan. 31 at the Women’s Interart Center, 500 W. 52nd St., NYC. Note that the address for this play was incorrectly listed at one point. The building you want is on the corner of 10th with a rather unassuming door for the entrance on 52nd. Tickets are $18 and may be purchased by calling 212-868-4444 or by visiting

Christians might also like to know:
• Lord’s name taken in vain
• Language
• American flag dropped on the floor

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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