KPBS AIRDATE: July 21, 2006
Fathers and sons. They’ve been having problems since Jacob and Esau tried to dupe their Biblical dad. Now along comes J. Marcus Newman, the San Diego theatermaker formerly known as Nonnie Vishner, who’s called his first play “Moms in America,” but the drama really concerns the highly volatile interactions of three generations of men. In the hilariously comic “Fully Committed,” making another return visit to Cygnet Theatre, poor harried, put-upon Sam has to deal with all the loonies who insist on immediate reservations at the chichi New York restaurant where he works. But the most poignant moments, especially in this latest production, are his conversations with his slow-talking, Midwestern, newly widowed Dad, who just wants him home for the holidays.
Beloved local actor David McBean reprises the role that’s won him so many honors – including a Patté Award for Outstanding Performance. It’s a tour de force, by any definition. Under the expert direction of Sean Murray, McBean morphs into some 40 different characters, sometimes nearly simultaneously. There are males and females, old and young, gay and straight, snooty Frenchmen and boorish New Yorkers, wheelers, dealers, sheiks and envious actors. Sam is trying to get a role at Lincoln Center, at the same time he’s being called on to run interference among a truckload of prima donnas – and somehow get back to his dad. The characterizations were always brilliant, but now the emotional connections are deeper and more heartfelt. If you didn’t get to see this before, or even if you did, you’ll laugh yourself silly and you’ll love it. Becky Mode’s play isn’t a masterwork; but the performance is.
The mastermind behind Mark Newman’s world premiere, “Moms in America,” is… Mark Newman. In a gutsy move, the independent entrepreneur has donned the hats of writer, producer, director and designer. It’s a commendable effort all around. The three males of this Jewish-American family are named, prototypically, Pop, Dad and Son. The estranged trio come together to bury Pop’s ex-wife, who’s Mom to Dad and grandma to Son. Recriminations fly – about mothers first, of course, but primarily about fatherhood, sexuality, acceptance, responsibility and regrets. The Russian immigrant Pop is weak and failing; undependable hippie-holdover Dad keeps just drinking; and the gay Son does naked yoga, which somehow prompts a roll-on-the-floor fist-fight with his father.
The design is meticulous, the pacing sluggish and the performances erratic, but each man — Edwin Eigner, Paul Halem and Jay Michael Fraley – reaches at least one peak dramatic moment. The play could use some trimming and tweaking. The middle-man, Dad, needs development. Since the play is admittedly family-inspired, this may reflect Newman’s own conflicted relationship.
Modern male angst – now that’s different. See it at a theater near you.
©2006 Patté Productions Inc.