Reviewed by Lovell Estell III
The Road Theatre on Lankershim
Through July 1
Nicky Silver’s mordant comedy revisits the familiar generative terrain of the dysfunctional family coping with life’s difficulties — and themselves.
It’s hard to think that the pall of death hangs over the hospital room where Ben (James Handy) lies in a bed with a morphine drip, while his wife Rita (Judith Scarpone) sits leisurely nearby, thumbing through an Architectural Digest. They mostly bicker — not so much about Ben’s impending demise from cancer, but about Rita’s plans for remodeling the living room once he’s gone, and his continual barrage of foul language.
It’s apparent that the immaculately coiffed and attired Rita isn’t all that upset about a future without Ben, and she lets him know it with a ready serving of sarcastic — sometimes cruel — comments. When daughter Lisa (Verity Branco), a recovering alcoholic, arrives, Rita humorously morphs into the familiar Jewish mother you love to hate or hate to love, with salty innuendoes concerning her grandson’s mental condition, and whether her daughter should get him tested for “moderate retardation.”
Polishing off the portrait of this troubled unhappy family is the couple’s gay son (Chad Coe), whom Ben utterly despises. What should have been a somber respectful vigil turns into a family brawl, with equal parts guilting, name-calling, high-decibel screeching, and some meaningful revelations about the deep wells of pain, anger and resentment that perplexingly connects and divides these people.
Act I delivers abundant laughs, but the tone radically changes in a somewhat clunky Act II, when Ben’s meeting with a realtor (Kris Frost) on the day of his father’s death turns violent, setting off a string of unlikely and surprising turns. The finale is a bit too saccharine to be effective, but notwithstanding the problems in the second act, this is an enjoyable play that boasts some fine acting under Scott Alan Smith’s steady directorial hand. Sarah Brown provides a simple, well-designed set piece and Liz Herron rounds out the cast.
The Road on Lankershim, 5108 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood; Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m.; through July 1., www.roadtheatre.org or (818)-761-8838. Running time: two hours with an intermission.