By Ruth Ross
What do you get when you match six acting pros with a devilishly clever and hilarious script? Social Security, currently onstage at the Bickford Theatre in Morristown, that's what?
Penned by Andrew Bergman, dubbed by New York Magazine "The Unknown King of Comedy" in 1985, Social Security is essentially a drawing room comedy set in a swanky apartment on the Upper East Side during the shoulder-padded, money-obsessed eighties. Instead of dissecting manners, Bergman focuses on what happens two very different sisters cope with their elderly mother.
All Hell breaks loose when Trudy and Marvin, he a nebbishy Mineola accountant and she her mother's lone caretaker, show up at the door of her sister Barbara and David Kahn, high-powered art dealers, with overbearing mother Sophie Greengrass in tow (actually, she's waiting in the car). Their arrival upsets the Kahns’ ordered, sophisticated existence, lived far from their tiresome relatives. Barbara and David struggle with Sophie's demands, until David brings home centenarian artist Maurice Kernig (master of "The Windows of Masada") for dinner. As the two senior citizens become better acquainted, laughs ensue and all is right with the world.
Producing Artistic Director Eric Hafen once again displays his directorial chops by keeping the comedic pace at just the right speed to get laughs while letting the humanity of the characters shine. Laura Ekstrand and Scott McGowan (above) are appropriately brittle and self-centered as Barbara and David—she a polished lady, he a flippant elf. Bev Sheehan (left) is perfection as lackluster, miserable Trudy, frumpy and grumpy about everything from the price of cheese to having to care for their mother. David C. Neal (above, right) embodies the schlubby Marvin to a tee; his body English projects a nobody, making his secret life even more delicious when it is revealed. Their reaction to news of their sexually promiscuous daughter is worth the price of a ticket.
As Sophie, Noreen Farley (above, center) blossoms from a whiny old lady into a beautiful butterfly under the influence of the suave Maurice played with spirit by Jim Clancy. He's debonair with his beret and thoughtful when he deals with Sophie.
William Motyka has designed an expansive, swanky Upper East Side apartment decorated with canvases of abstract art and furnished with sleek, uncomfortable-looking furniture appropriate to the play's 1986 setting. Fran Harrison has dressed Ekstrand in those suits with wide padded shoulders we favored back in the day, Sheehan's dull attire mirrors her character's inner life and Farley's change from frump to chic senior citizen telegraphs Sophie's transformation. Danielle Pietrowski has provided props suitable to the moneyed class; Roman Klima's lighting design is appropriately atmospheric.
Social Security is a gentle, albeit razor sharp, comedy about a problem many people of the "sandwich generation" face today. But the comedy is really cross-generational. A full house of senior citizens laughed uproariously at the performance I attended.
Once again, as the world is going to Hell in a hand basket, comedy (or theater in general) has the ability to take us out of ourselves. By laughing at the foibles of others we can, perhaps, accept those of others. In any event, Social Security provides a welcome respite to busy holiday preparations and continuing bad news emanating from the television. Don't miss it.
Social Security will be performed at the Bickford Theatre (in the Morris Museum), 6 Normandy Heights Ave., Morristown, Thursdays through Sundays through December 7. There are matinees at 2 PM on December 4 and 7. For information and tickets, call the box office at 973.971.3706 (Monday-Friday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM). Online ticketing is not available at this time.
Photo credit: Tom Kelcec