New York: There's a cute little duality to the title of Richard Nelson's new play, Frank's Home, the biopic analysis of a crucial moment in the later life of renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright. The title acts both as a contraction (as in, Frank is home!) as well as a possessive (as in, do not forget, this is the house that Frank built).
Playwrights Horizons is currently mounting this show after a stay at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, but perhaps Home could have benefited from further time on the road. This show, a talky, nearly two-hour sermon excusing those who create for their personal flaws, gets tired too quickly and leans too heavily on its cast.
The gifted Peter Weller leads said cast as Wright, who returns to his children, Catherine (Maggie Siff) and Lloyd (Jay Whittaker) in California in 1923, hoping to revive his career. Catherine and Jay seem to have mattered quite little to Wright over the course of his life; he essentially abandoned them when he left their mother, who has only recently granted him a divorce. His woman du jour, Miriam Noel (Mary Beth Fisher), doesn't seem to rate much higher on his scale, nor to Nelson, who casts her aside for the better part of the play. No, the one character who matters most to him is Louis Sullivan (Harris Yulin), his one-time mentor, mourning the death of his lover.
Wright is currently working on building a schoolhouse for Helen Girvin (Holley Fain), an impressionable young teacher, as his daughter and son repeatedly appear and reappear to remind their father of his absence in their lives, with little to define one appearance from another in terms of character or plot development. Nelson's point is clear: Wright was bad with people, and good with buildings.
Then comes the news that perhaps Wright wasn't always that good with his buildings, either, as a Tokyo earthquake has apparently leveled the Imperial Hotel, his most recent triumph. Wright is rocked far more by this news than any accusations his loved ones level in his direction, and Weller must tread through some tiresome monologues questioning his abilities before an obvious resolution comes to absolve him. (Hint: the Imperial Tower survived until 1976). The actor has terrific presence and an even greater vocal delivery, but his defensive thoughts never make for compelling action.
Robert Falls, the great director of such recent revivals as Death of a Salesman and Long Day's Journey Into Night, can guide Home along but Nelson does not provide him with much material to coax the play to life, and it lays dormant. Yulin, a consummate performer, has a nice rapport with Weller, especially in the few scenes featuring just the two of them, and Fisher, Siff, and Whittaker all deliver finely honed performances. If they were to pull out specific scenes for an audition or highlight reel, one could see they are all worthy actors (as is Jeremy Strong as Wright;s lackey), but despite their best efforts, these pieces never form a greater finished puzzle.