“Linger” charts the disintegration of a family

460
"Linger" by Glen Ridge resident Craig Garcia. Photo by Ian Alfano.
Linger is the winner of the 2018 Premiere Play Festival

Premiere Stages, Kean University’s professional theatre company, is back again this summer with the world premiere of Craig Garcia’s drama Linger, winner of the 2018 Premiere Play Festival. The playwright, in an interview in the program, states that he wanted to create “a contemporary family drama… something that was relevant and unique.” What is presented is something else altogether: a tragedy of errors in which every character, despite good advice and professional ethics, never fails to make the wrong decisions repeatedly.

Linger begins the day after a teen party at which something terrible has happened. The son of the family is taken in for questioning by the police; his father goes with him. The daughter is watching social media as rumors and conjectures about the event and her brother’s part in it quickly spread, as do pictures taken at the party. The father, convinced of his son’s innocence, sees any attempt to question his logic as disloyalty to the family. Under the mounting pressures of social media and keeping secrets, the father becomes hell-bent on destroying anything and anyone who casts doubt on his son’s innocence. The seemingly happy family we see at the start of the play splinters and dissolves. No one, including the victim of the party event and his father, escape unscathed. The moral of it all seems to be that there are some incidents one cannot fix no matter how painful, and no amount of sorrow or good intentions can assuage.

Scene from "Linger" by Glen Ridge resident Craig Garcia. Photo by Ian Alfano.
Scene from “Linger” by Glen Ridge resident Craig Garcia. Photo by Ian Alfano.

Linger could have been a strong, realistic play about the horrific new strength given to societal pressures to conform with the advent of social media. Instead, what is presented is a cautionary fable set in a suburban utopia of model families living within a false sense of security. Mr. Garcia, in the program notes, admits that he bypassed his usual writing process by not getting feedback on the play before its first reading. By doing so, he missed the opportunity to create a work more grounded in today’s society with more nuance given to his characters’ motives and actions, relying instead on three major tropes.

The first of these is the view of social media as a demonic force with its constant seduction creating a false sense of community and the destructive power of its quick, implacable judgments. Next, there is the cliché of parents who see their children as little angels while not really knowing anything about their lives. This is combined with the notion that modern-day parents remain willfully ignorant of the workings of social media and the dangers it poses. Finally, for a play set in the present the fathers trot out several long-since-discredited conceptions about homosexuality. These include how homosexuals are all right as long as they don’t “flaunt” their “perverse,” “disgusting,” “deviant” sexual behavior in public; how those who do “act out” deserve whatever they get in return; and how homosexuality is somehow the fault of the parent and needs to be “cured.”

While the play is lacking, the performances are fine. Each actor fully inhabits his or her character even when the script requires them to act as though they were living in a 1980’s made-for-TV movie instead of modern reality. In alphabetical order, they are Will Ehren as Bobby, the victim; Michael Frederic as James, the head of the family; Bobby Haltiwanger as Mike, his son; Jonathan C. Kaplan as Gerald, Bobby’s father; Sarah Kathryn Maki as Summer, the daughter; and Danielle Skraastad as Maryanne, the mother. Mr. Ehren, Mr. Haltiwanger, and Ms. Maki deserve special credit for creating teenaged characters who believably act their ages.

Fine acting, however, is not enough for me to encourage you to see Linger. One can hope that Mr. Garcia will revise and strengthen his play. A stronger, more reality-based version of this play would be something worth seeing. As it is now, I’d suggest you pass.

Linger is presented by Premiere Stages at the Zella Fry Theatre on the campus of Kean University in Union through July 29, 2018. For tickets and information, visit premierestagesatkean.com.