The play by Simon Stephens comes with the pedigree of an Olivier award in London, as well as the author’s previous adaptation of the novel “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” In “On the Shore of the Wide World” he focuses on two families in what amounts to a sprawling drama about their struggles to come to terms with life, and in one case, death.
I suspect that the work, set in 2004 in Stockport (near Manchester) and London, played better in its British production. Here, despite some effective acting, there is a mélange of accents, and somehow the working class aspect of the play doesn’t come through as powerfully as it must, an achievement that one knows can be done very effectively in theater in England.
Still, as the play’s involvements progress, there is mounting interest in the characters as written and as delineated by the mostly fine cast, and as we see their lives unfold within the plain, multi-purpose and serviceable set designed by Scott Pask. Neil Pepe’s direction strives for realism, enhanced by accentuating some of the play’s more poignant dialogue.
Peter Maloney and Blair Brown play the elderly couple Charlie and Ellen Holmes, who are bonded in their long marriage despite blips along the way. Their son, Peter, who works in construction and is portrayed by an excellent C.J. Wilson is married to Alice, whom Mary McCann skillfully demonstrates is devoted but missing warmth and excitement in her life, as is her husband. They have two sons, Alex and Christopher, and the fate of one of them leaves a deep mark.
An outsider is Sarah Black, played by Tedra Millan with a grating voice, and she is the girlfriend of one brother, and then the other. More interesting is Amelia Workman as the pregnant Susan Reynolds, a book editor who has hired Peter for a job on her home, and with whom he strikes up interesting conversations.
An important development occurs when Alice is approached by Leroy McClain as John Robinson, who wants to apologize for a terrible event, even though he is not at fault. After at first rejecting him, Alice secretly gets closer in meetings with him and is sexually tempted, which helps illuminate a gap in her emotional life.
There you have the families spanning three generations in their complexity, and the author packs much into the observances of their interwoven lives, with dramatic ups and downs, resentments and pleasures. At the Atlantic Theater Company’s Linda Gross Theater, 336 West 20th Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed September 24, 2017.