Thursday, January 25, 2007

Brooklyn Arden Review: "Frank's Home"

Last Saturday I went to see “Frank’s Home,” a new play by Richard Nelson at Playwrights Horizons.* The title is both a complete sentence and a noun, and laced with irony in both constructions: As a sentence, in reference to this play, it recounts the tumultuous homecoming of Frank Lloyd Wright from Japan in 1922, where he met again the children he hadn’t seen in fifteen years and a country not as confident of his genius as he was. And as a noun, it is what Mr. Wright seeks and never finds, even as he builds houses for others from his own aesthetic visions. The play is like all the best features of Mr. Wright’s houses: strong-boned; elegant; contained, but with a view to the distance; and deeply inhabited by the spirit of its source materials—that is, the historical figures who populate the play, to whom Mr. Nelson brings understanding, great sympathy, and again no small dose of gentle irony in his recognition of their humanity and contradictions.

As the play opens, Mr. Wright has just returned to the U.S. from six years in Japan. He is confident, careless, energetic, broke; an architect without a house of his own, a prophet without recognition in his own country, and, as so often happens, both a true genius in his work and an absolute bastard in his personal life. He has come to California, where his grown son (Lloyd) and daughter (Catherine) live, accompanied by his mistress, Miriam Noel, and soon joined by his mentor, one of the first major architects of the skyscraper, Louis B. Sullivan. Lloyd and Catherine hate Miriam, not least because their mother has finally agreed to give Frank a divorce, and they love and hate their father in turn: He casually denigrates Lloyd’s abilities as an architect and he’s never met (or tried to meet) Catherine’s husband. Miriam is a morphine addict who expects Frank to marry her, but he’s just as likely to send her away for her unpredictability; and Louis Sullivan is a wry alcoholic who has been eclipsed by the apprentice he now must beg for a job. And then, in the middle of this idyllic family reunion, news arrives that the Imperial Hotel in Japan, the lifework of Frank’s last half-decade and the world’s first “earthquake-proof” building . . . has been destroyed by an earthquake.

Historical plays, like historical fiction, live only as much as the characters who inhabit them, and Mr. Nelson has done masterful work here in that every character seems effortlessly real. His Frank Lloyd Wright especially has just the right degree of cruelty and charisma—he’s astoundingly attractive for the very assurance and vision that blind him to anyone else’s needs. As Frank, Peter Weller (yes, Robocop) offers a terrific performance that never slips over the top, as much as that must have been a temptation given the character’s egomania. Weller is equally matched by the rest of the fine cast: Chris Henry Coffey and Maggie Siff as Lloyd and Catherine, who each reveal the longing and hurt beneath their characters’ priggishness; Mary Beth Fisher in a brief but searing appearance as Miriam; Holley Fain as a young woman who shares Frank’s arrogance and thus manages to resist his advances; and especially the wonderful Harris Yulin (yes, Quentin Travers) as the ever-observant Louis Sullivan, a man past his prime both personally and professionally but still maintaining a worthy dignity. Special appreciation also to the lovely costumes by Susan Hilferty, which subtly enhance each individual character while uniting in a coherent and beautiful stage picture. This is an excellent play given an excellent production (transferred from Chicago’s Goodman Theatre), and worth seeing by all students of architecture and character.

Through February 18; for tickets, see the discount here.
* Full disclosure: Playwrights Horizons offers me comp tickets to previews of its shows in exchange for posting a discount offer and a review of the play here on my blog. I am allowed to say whatever I like regarding these shows, and I do, as you can see from my reviews here and here. Many thanks to the PH staff for the opportunity.


  1. The Frank Lloyd Wright homes here in LA are something to see. The Hollyhock house at Griffith Park is a work of art.

    Just yesterday, I was looking at pictures of Anais Nin's house in Silverlake that was Eric Lloyd Wright's first design. It's a beauty. Check it out here in the photo gallery....

    It's interesting seeing photos of the two houses side by side. Wright Sr's work is so grand and mystical while Wright Jr's is more Zen and livable.

    The play sounds completely engaging! We'll have to catch it when it finally wanders out our way. (Our culture for the weekend is a Bowling for Soup concert this Saturday.)

    Best thoughts,


    PS, It’s Peter Weller = "The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension" (Heart throb sigh)

  2. Looks fantastic, and thanks for the beautiful review! I think I'll try to go this weekend...

  3. *also sighs nostalgically for Peter Weller as Buckaroo Banzai*

    This sounds like a fabulous play. Alas that I am too far away to see it!