Ensemble Theatre Company presents The City of Conversation, Anthony Giardina’s play about family and politics, directed by Cameron Watson. The play tracks the relationship between liberal political influencer Hester Ferris (Sharon Lawrence) and her son, Colin (Matthew Grondin), who converts to Republicanism and marries Anna (Sally Hughes), an ambitious Reaganite looking to break into politics.
It’s a chatty play — most of the information about the characters and their universe is conveyed through dialogue rather than physicality or emotionality. Much of that “conversation” is political bickering between Hester, Colin, and Anna, who are unwilling to yield their positions, even at the expense of their relationship. Sharon Lawrence is appealing as savvy, snobby Hester, but in general, the characters’ WASP-y repression impedes their potential to connect with the audience (especially when most of the cast has very little to do).
The play takes place over several decades, and introduces three generations of Ferrises, but too little time is spent with the characters in each scenario to explore them in-depth, making the narrative feel superficial. The City of Conversation concludes with Obama’s inauguration in 2009, but the imparted jubilation at the triumph of the liberal agenda plays differently to a post-Obama audience that knows just how far right the pendulum swings at the end of Obama’s term. The City of Conversation lacks luster and exemplifies the unsettling notion of the impossibility of bipartisan cooperation, even among family members.