There's a work factor in seeing a show for review that can fundamentally distance a critic from the rest of an audience. I arrived at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove last night from a Gold Line bus. At 41 years of age, I was on the younger edge of an audience that was there for casual entertainment. Everyone else was well-tuned to a light family sitcom and I was there for the work I love. The trip out had me thinking about politics and headlines and things that I read on the hour long commute. It took me a little while to synchronize-up with the mood of the rest of the audience.
The ensemble for the show is quite well-integrated. The family dynamic feels right. The director has brought them together in clever social modulation. A young guy is trying to tell all four of his grandparents that he's moving away to the other side of the country. He's younger than me, but I identify with him because he’s closer in age to me than anyone else in the story. This is an older audience, though. They’re going to identify with the larger end of the ensemble. This guy tells his grandparents that there isn't anything to keep him there in New Jersey and the whole audience gasps. The line hits all of them as a shock. To me it seems obvious. It's a nice family, but they’re driving him crazy and he wants to live somewhere other than Jersey his whole life. I’m with him and they’re with them. (The family I mean.) It's always weird to have that kind of distance from the rest of the audience. Just as the younger guy begins to realize what a good family he’s got, I begin to feel a bit more integrated with the rest of the audience. We’re starting to laugh at the same things. It’s fun.
During an intermission I overheard somebody (who was presumably a regular at the Sunset) mentioning something along the lines of it being really a good choice for the company. It's hard to disagree with that. This is really a play about family. It’s really a drama about family on a couple of different levels. There’s a family of actors here playing a family of characters. Most of the actors feel totally at home in the roles of retirees. Raffaello Frattura puts in a truly engaging performance, but that’s no surprise: this guy’s been performing for over THREE DEACES...and they ALL have that kind of experience onstage. They may not have always been playing a single family like this, but they all sink into a very organic relationship with the stage that feels very authentic BECAUSE IT IS. People with great comfort onstage play people in a very comfortable home. Family plays family. Familiarity plays familiarity. That guy I overheard during intermission was right: this IS a really good choice. I’m there for work. They’re there for the community in this community theatre. It’s nice to be a tourist in a space like that. It’s really satisfying to have been pulled into the gravity of a show like this even if doing so pulled me away from MY family for one more night and in the interest of exploring the nature human connection.
Sunset Playhouse's production of Over the River and Through the Woods runs through Sep. 24 at the Furlan Auditorium on 800 Elm Grove Rd. For ticket reservations, visit the Sunset Playhouse online. My comprehensive review of the show runs in the next print edition of the Shepherd-Express.