Ross Howard’s No One Loves Us Here, directed incisively by Jerry Heymann, offers a frigidly funny diorama of fatal dysfunction in an upper-middle-class American suburb one step removed from reality.
That’s one big step, though. Contrary to the title, someone does love someone here, but not in any remotely healthy way. Other than that, nothing about the lives and surroundings of Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont is anything we would (or would like to) recognize about ourselves.
Howard’s great accomplishment is creating a skewed world that’s entirely consistent and self-contained. That’s the mark of a successful fantasy tale, and in a way, that’s what this is. Like The Hobbit, and like many a stage drama, No One Loves Us Here begins with an unexpected visit. Washington, a 19-year-old nerd-without-portfolio who works at the local video rental store, shows up at the Beaumonts’ ostensibly to collect a couple of overdue DVDs, an errand that right away establishes the absurd yet disturbingly familiar framework of the story to come.
The Beaumonts’ living room itself makes a statement even sooner, though. Neat, bland, devoid of bright colors, the only artwork muted and abstract and barely noticeable, it’s a sort of blank slate captured perfectly in Brian Dudkiewicz’s elegant set design.
Washington’s entry not only sets the unreal tone (and reveals that the Beaumonts live at #13) but sets in motion a twisted story of betrayal, obsession, and murder, all told with a sly wink and a snap of Mrs. Beaumont’s beloved garden shears – shears which live, naturally in this world askew, in the living room, along with an apparently open urn containing Mr. Beaumont’s mother’s ashes and little else of note.
The cast of five is almost flawless. Anthony Michael Irizarry imbues Washington with a naïve simplicity that doesn’t quite hide a hint of menace, though now and then he lapses into a TV-acting style of mumble-talk and we lose an occasional line. Christian Ryan makes Mr. Beaumont an icy, cartoonish bundle of frustration and evil, driven by loveless lust for his neighbor Amber (a delightfully terrifying April Kidwell) and by sublimated despair at the downturn in his business. His business, amusingly, is described only as “communication,” something he uses in his personal life mostly to deceive and obfuscate.
Dick Hughes brings a creepy air of avuncular threat to the smaller role of Jack, Mrs. Beaumont’s father, whose presence grounds the play’s “family” in something approaching a real family, but ultimately to no good effect. In No One Loves Us Here, no one comes off well.
Jessica Kitchens plunges into the meaty role of the woozy Mrs. Beaumont with all her considerable skill at fusing scene-chewing and subtlety. Fully inhabiting this artfully written role – almost, but never quite, spilling beyond its boundaries – she helps make it a character worthy of Noël Coward. To watch Mrs. Beaumont ask after her shears (“And are they bent now?”) upon learning they’ve been used in a grisly murder is to bask in one of comedy’s darkest and most basic joys.
This New Life Theater Project production offers a number of those joys: amoral yet compelling characters, Seinfeld-like but with even more nastiness; tight-lipped commentary on the explosive potential of family dynamics; and subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle comedy, all put forward with fully realized, fine-tuned performances and production values. As with a great many and probably most domestic comedies, its Act II wrap-up, while somewhat cathartic, doesn’t quite equal the pitch-perfection of Act I. But at just the right length and pace, this compact play ought to find a welcome on a bigger stage.
No One Loves Us Here runs through Feb. 7 at Urban Stages, 259 West 30th Street, New York City. For tickets visit or call 630-632-1459.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=067978179X][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00EIJTLK4][amazon template=iframe image&asin=0761126325]