The Montgomery Playhouse is
serving up one of the funniest comedies in recent years with a revival of Andrew Bergman's Social Security (to
9/27). When this classic 2-Act hit Broadway in the mid-1980s, where it ran for about a year, it came attached with a
most impressive array of talent. Directed by Mike Nichols, it featured Ron Silver, Marlo Thomas, Olympia Dukakis, and
Joanna Gleason (who won a Drama Desk Award). Mr. Bergman had a likewise striking movie background, having written the
screenplays for Blazing Saddles, Oh God, You Devil, and Fletch; and his comic wit runs every bit as trippingly on
the stage as it did on the screen. A perennial favorite of the smaller theaters and some of the bigger ones, MPs
production delivers on the promise of a laugh riot, big time.
The themes are universal, the characters appealing,
and well known and appreciated by us all. Elder care and family responsibilities cross paths with matters of the heart. There's
no deep meaning anywhere in the play - you will search forever for a subtext; you won't find one.
Security tells the story of a pair of Upper East Side art dealers David (David Flinn) and Barbara Kahn (Tanya Edwards),
with champagne tastes and a budget to match, who are about to have their world turned upside down with the arrival of "family"
- Barbara's penny-pinching sister Trudy (Veronica Johnson) and brother-in-law Martin Heyman (David Dubov), and waiting
in the wings, her forthright, walker-thumping mother Sophie Greengrass (Jane Squire Bruns). Act One sets up the conflicts
(many off-stage) and contrasts the quirky personalities of the characters. The free-spending Kahns are begrudged each
and every excess by the tight-fisted and envious Heymans. The aesthetics of art and the send up of the art scene - what
makes a painting great (even if it's a dinette!) or a painter a painter - are delightfully tossed about by the playwright
in many ways that will sound as true today as it did then and even before, perhaps for every generation.
by Jacy D'Aiutolo with a comic feeling for family dynamics, the play features a number of light touches including a romantic
entr' act (of sorts) dance with the real-life married couple Jane and Donald Bruns; a behind-the-couch romp by stage partners
David Flinn and Tanya Edward; and a number of well-choreographed doubles strategies.
David Jones' impressive
set, expansive in its space and subtle in its theme, graces this 275-seat theater with its playful references to the time
and the allusions of place. Whether it's the paintings, sculpture, or design we know we are somewhere special. Set
dressing and props by Kay Coupe, Melinda Fisher (also the producer), and the versatile Jacy D'Aiutolo flesh out the work.
Lighting designer Jonathan Zucker gives this vision the best possible look and is to be complimented highly for keeping the
lights up throughout, while the sound of Matthew Datcher contrasts a snappy 1980s playlist with music of Paris of the 1940s
and Germany of the 1880s. The peripatetic Ms. Fisher and Erin Hines as the costumers supply the right accents on character
and mood to complete this tableau.
Not missing a point in the appraisal category is Mom, who arrives in Act Two.
Mother and daughter issues arise from the get-go as the miscommunications, verbal slights, and innuendos fly with Barbara
awaiting the arrival of elderly artist superstar Maurice Koenig. Initially laying a heavy list of grievances and attendant
guilt on her daughter, Sophie has an amazing mid-scene turnaround. Rising from the court to the shock of all - who had
her written out of the game of life - she hits it off with the sprightly nonagenarian artist; and before you can say "Let
Love," she recovers her youthful stride, and the game, set, and match are hers. The rest of the act, which is played
throughout as a bit of a farce, features some plot discoveries and reversals which will leave the well-made play lover (like
moi) fully sated. Suffice it to say there are many shenanigans taking place, all known to Sophie, who has her finger
on the emotional pulse of the family and then some.
It's clearly ladies night in this well-cast family free-for-all.
Ms. Edwards is captivating in her woman-on-the-verge portrayal of Barbara. You tremble in anticipation over the arrival
of her mother and all the attendant anxieties this visit engenders. For this character the threat is always stronger
than the execution. Ms. Bruns' understated but honest demeanor as Sophie is touching as her emergence as a woman in love
is transformative. A striking Julie Harris look alike, she has Morris Koenig and the rest of us in the palm of her expressive
hands. What a makeover! And stealing every scene she enters is Ms. Johnston whose penchant for histrionics, and marked
temperamental contrast with her sister, raises (or lowers) sibling rivalries to new levels.
shows us a David whose artistic taste runs the gamut from fine form to fine figures as he mentally lingers on the many possibilities,
missed but still cherished, as horrified Barbara recoils in shock. Mr. Dubov is a delight as the flat-footed Martin,
a calculating presence who has worked the balance sheet to his best advantage.
Playhouse is celebrating its 80th anniversary, making them the oldest continuously operating community theater
in the state of Maryland. If the present production is any indication, they'll be around for their 100th
and more. If you haven't seen them in action, or even if you have, come join the celebration. Social Security
is a complete charmer, excellent for every season and taste and fully funded for life.
Sound check: Excellent
Program notes: Very good for this community theater; I liked the grouping of cast, designers, and production crew.
Might have benefited from the inclusion of actor headshots
Applause meter: Highly recommended, 3 ½ hands, very
good value for a theater production
Photo credits: Kay Coupe
Published by John F. Glass September 21, 2009
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