Social Security at Sunset Playhouse Theater
Successful New York art dealers Barbara and David Kahn are about to have a problem. That problem comes in the form of a elderly, walker-using, bitter woman named Sophie. She is Barbara’s mother, and ever since Sophie’s husband died and children have grown up she has developed a penchant for creating arguments and difficulties with all those who surround her. Barbara’s sister Trudy and her husband Martin — who had been taking care of the aging mother — are flying off to Buffalo to end their college daughter’s involvement in a situation of extreme debauchery.
This encompasses the first act of the low gravity comedy by playwright Andrew Bergman. From this point on, surprises of character, witty retorts, and twists of plot try to keep us engaged. Social Security, despite its unaffected title, is essentially a play about romantic lust: from the initial exploration of it by someone in her later teens, to the nourishment or dissolution of it by couples in their mid-years, and finally in the inspiring rediscovery of it by someone in the winter of life.
Dialogue exchanges are well-handled by the two different couples, but it does not support the script. It requires a more grounded and naturalistic acting approach, rather than the screwball ping-pong pace this staging undertakes. The energy and commitment by the actors is right, but the broad tone is off. As a result, the audience is set up for an uproarious heart attack of bawdy engagement but instead the verbal-based jokes flatline, producing only a modicum of laughter. There are moments of broad humor that bring gasps and guffaws, but overall they seem misplaced in this production.
The set looks amazingly posh, giving the illusion of an upscale Manhattan apartment. The general wash of lighting works for a comedic piece and the changes of mood are supported by invisible modifications to the illumination. A lengthy set/costume change between the scenes of act two felt long enough to break the story flow, though.
Sunset’s production of Social Security has moments that elicit an awed gape and spontaneous laugh, but overall it seemed torn between wanting to be a strictly fun, broad entertainment and something that makes a statement about the relentless mastery of love we all must serve or be taunted by. If you go to see Social Security, don’t expect a nonstop comedy but rather a light distraction that will be easily forgotten.
Social Security continues at The Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove through May 9th. For ticket and showtime information, visit their website at: http://www.sunsetplayhouse.com/