It’s not often that residents of northern New Jersey have the opportunity to see the world premiere of a homegrown theatrical talent, but that’s just what is going on at the Garage Theatre Group at the Becton Theatre on the campus of FDU in Teaneck.
Adam Siegel’s play “The Legacy” is getting a full production for the first time; it is being performed through March 9 on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m.
Mr. Siegel, who lives in Maplewood, has written other plays, and “The Legacy” was a finalist for the New Jersey Playwright’s Contest and a semifinalist for the O’Neill Playwrights Conference. The well-constructed three-character play focuses on the contentious relationship between a crotchety children’s book writer and illustrator, his long-time partner, and his son, Jacob. Marty Rothberg is 84, in poor health, and cantankerous. His lover and caregiver, Nathaniel, also an artist, puts up with his endless complaints and his forgetfulness with what seems to be loving patience. The two men live in a tastefully appointed house in Connecticut – nicely designed by Robert Perkel – and seem to be like any other couple who have been together for 40 years.
The fly in this honeypot is Marty’s son, Jacob, who arrives unexpectedly. A museum curator, Jacob has come to get a specific painting of his father’s for a show that he’s putting together. It is a painting that Marty did of Nathaniel when they were both much younger. Jacob insists that this is Marty’s greatest work, the piece that finally will get him the genuine recognition he deserves. He is astonished and outraged when his father flatly refuses.
What possible reason could he have for saying no?
Doesn’t he want to help his son?
Doesn’t he want to finally be taken seriously?
Aside from writing plays, Mr. Siegel is also the editorial director of a children’s book publisher, so it’s somewhat surprising that all the characters feel such disdain for children’s books. Both Jacob and Nathaniel believe that Marty has “wasted” his talent on illustrations for his series of books called “Nate at Eight.” As a former children’s writer myself, maybe I’m a tad overly sensitive, but what would Maurice Sendak say?
Of course, Jacob and Marty are not really fighting over a painting. They are arguing over what that painting symbolizes – Marty’s abandonment of his wife and children for his lover, Nathaniel. What that meant to all three characters is revealed in the first scene of the second act, a flashback to that time of painful decision. Marty is torn between his sense of responsibility to his children and to his genuine love for Nathaniel. “Painting doesn’t pay the rent,” he tells Nathaniel when he decides to work on children’s books, giving the protagonist the nickname his lover hates.
Although “The Legacy” can be seen as a testament to the loving bonds of gay couples, the play wouldn’t change much if Nathaniel had been another woman. The emotional rupture and betrayal that Jacob feels is only somewhat related to his father’s homosexuality. Mr. Siegel does not always seem fully to appreciate that, and Jacob is presented as an ungrateful and vindictive child.
Ironically, Marty criticizes Jacob’s wife for staying home with the kids and learning Mandarin, when of course Nathaniel does pretty much the same thing, minus the Chinese. Both father and son need a “wife” at home. Developing the similarities between them might deepen the production.
Thom Molyneaux is particularly good as Marty, and Michael Horowitz as Nathaniel makes a believable object of desire. Brendan Walsh plays Jacob with a lot of intensity, and sometimes seems to be repeating himself. That’s not his fault, of course, and the first act would have benefited from a trim.
But it’s always fun to see a new play locally, and Garage Theatre has mounted a respectful and entertaining production of “The Legacy.”