A comedy of elders, boomers

Generations, siblings collide in Bowie Community Theatre's `Social Security'

Theater review

April 16, 2008|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,Special to The Sun

Bowie Community Theatre's offering of Andrew Bergman's 1986 comedy Social Security is a welcome addition to the Bowie Playhouse season slate. New to our area, the comic play takes a lighthearted look at nearly insoluble problems confronting many baby boomers and their elders -- the predominant age groups of most theatergoers.

Playwright Andrew Bergman's career started at the top with his collaboration at age 27 with Mel Brooks on the screenplay for the movie Blazing Saddles. Fifteen years later, his first attempt to write for the stage became Social Security. It opened on Broadway directed by Mike Nichols and cast with Olympia Dukakis and Marlo Thomas.

Bergman keeps the jokes coming in rapid-fire fashion in this sitcom-style play about Barbara Kahn, the wife of a successful Manhattan art dealer who is about to get her aged mother from her suburban housewife sister Trudy Heyman, whose husband Martin agrees they've had the sole responsibility long enough. They've decided to go off in search of their college freshman daughter. Mother is downstairs waiting while they break the news to Barbara and her husband David.

The first act establishes the trials of Trudy and Martin caring for 80-year-old Sophie, who relies on a walker and is unwilling to be left alone. Trudy resents Barbara's affluence and unwillingness to share the responsibility for caring for their mother -- other than writing a check.

Bowie Community Theatre director Estelle Miller succeeds in her modest wish that the audience "go home feeling a little happier than when you came in." Miller does much more in transforming what could be stock characters into human beings we root for.

Maribeth Vogel Eckenrode inspires our sympathy as Barbara, who has genuine affection for her sister and mother but seems locked into her lifestyle. Jim Estepp as David draws humor from the high-blown pretentious art dealer talk laced with lusty references that he delivers in a standup comic style.

Debbie Samek is funny and fragile as outclassed, overworked Trudy, partly defined by her prudish mannerisms and inability to appreciate the minimalist artworks adorning the apartment walls. Even her accent is hilarious in her characterization of Trudy's confusion, resentment and desperation.

Played by Andrew Negri, Martin is the nerdish accountant who leads a Spartan existence and sees art only in terms of its monetary value. He views as mystical David's ability to enjoy a comfortable living on his talent appraising the market value of art. Martin is confused at the prospect of the sexual liberation of his 18-year-old daughter now off to college and resentful of her parents' daily phone calls.

Act 1 ends when matriarch Sophie appears at Barbara's door. Sophie, brilliantly played by Michele Hitchcock, becomes a central character who deals with such major issues as adult sibling conflicts, aging, changing relationships, sexuality and loneliness.

At home with Barbara, Sophie demands her constant attention while cooperating as little as possible with her imposed daily routine. In anticipation of the arrival of their dinner guest, the prominent Chagall-like 98-year-old artist Maurice Koenig, Sophie reluctantly changes from her comfortable housecoat into more appropriate attire that transforms her into a woman 20 years younger.

Sophie enchants Maurice, tenderly played by Rich Fogg. Together these two ancients express joy about blessings such as late-life companionship and the luxuries Maurice can afford.

The set is a work of art that reflects the lifestyle of a trendy Manhattan art dealer. The costumes suit every character.

Social Security continues through April 26 with shows at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors. To order, call 301-805-0219.

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