Daly siblings finally together in Dorset's "Downstairs"

Tyne and Tim Daly headline Theresa Rebeck's new play at Dorset Theatre Festival

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DORSET — Well, it's finally happened.

After four decades of life under the bright lights of Hollywood and Broadway, the Daly siblings, big sister and little brother, Tyne and Tim, have performed on stage for the first time in the world premiere of Theresa Rebeck's new play, "Downstairs," at Dorset Theatre Festival.

The play — which has been sold out with waiting lists for weeks — is directed by Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who also previously directed Tim Daly several seasons ago at Dorset in "Red."

It's worth noting that "Downstairs" opens Dorset's 40th anniversary season, and Dina Janis' seventh at the helm. As artistic/executive director, her Midas touch just won't let up.

Dorset is a jewel of a regional stage that has seen its share of zeniths and nadirs in four decades, but season after season Janis has shown an uncanny ability to bring together the right people and programs at the right place and time. As such, "Downstairs" continues the winning streak.

The action finds us in Irene and Jerry's (Tyne Daly, John Procaccino) dusty run down basement. There, Irene's brother Teddy (Tim Daly) has come for refuge, ostensibly from a job where he allegedly stole everything from trade secrets to sticky notes and felt pens.

This gives Irene a chance to reconnect and even to nurture her younger sibling, something she seems to crave because her relationship with Jerry comes across as one-sided, and suffocating.

As the siblings find clumsy ways to re-commune, Jerry interjects his dissatisfaction with Teddy in the basement. The twists and turns that follow are both comedic and tragic, like life itself in the realm of most families.

Rebeck write this play specifically with the Dalys in mind, and if this is the only time in their careers we will ever see them together, then not only was it worth the wait, but they made the most of it.

Tim was rightly disheveled and disoriented, creating the necessary ambiguity to have us wonder if he was slightly off center mentally, or just too beaten down by life's realities to take it anymore. He winced and wavered his way into our allegiance, even while craftily keep us somewhat at arm's length to sell his quirkiness.

Tyne's Irene evokes our empathy in ways that only a master of the craft can pull off. Her eyes, as in her youth, remain bastions of outward expression and inward heart wrenching. Ms. Rebeck gifted Tyne with some of the most subtle lines in the play and she was able to make them clarion calls of humanity.

Procaccino, a boisterous, charismatic New Yorker through and through, pulled off the distasteful and repulsive, and just nearly stole the show. His Jerry was such a poor excuse for a human being that at times it was uncomfortable just being in the theatre with that persona. Take note: that's superior acting.

It's apparent Ms. Campbell-Holt had her charges primed for this performance, and, as she noted to me last week when discussing the show for another article, the acting chops on her three players and the intensity of their preparation made her job much easier.

Narelle Sissons' excellent set really did pass for an old, dusty basement that hid its secrets well, and costumes by Charles Schoonmaker were austere yet expressive. Michael Giannitti's lights hit several seminal moments in concert with well-done sound by ML Dogg in accompaniment. Finally, one can see Will Rucker's stage management was on time and target throughout.

Ms. Rebeck can take heart that the play she wrote expressly for the Dalys is a viscerally human story, and easily her most relatable to everyday people of all the works she has premiered at Dorset. Even her obligatory cartridge of F-bombs hit the mark this time, and didn't come across as gratuitous or vulgar.

The play did have one blip that Ms. Rebeck could address in her revisions after this run. While 90-ish minute plays with no intermissions are all the rage today, "Downstairs" clocked in at 105 minutes, too bulky not to have a break. There are several places where considerable time can be sliced out, both with action that lingers a tad, as well as dialogue that continues pounding home a point already made a minute (or more) earlier.

But "Downstairs" remains Ms. Rebeck's best Dorset play to date. It went down into a basement, but reached lofty heights in meaning and passion. This is why everyone jumped to their feet within second of the final lines, and those lucky enough to have scored a ticket are in for actors, writer, crew, and company at their very finest.

"Downstairs" will run through July 8 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., Dorset. Info: 802-867-2223 or dorsettheatrefestival.org

— Follow award-winning freelance journalist Telly Halkias on Twitter: @TellyHalkias

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