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Social Security

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Social Security, Raven Theatre. Yes, Andrew Bergman's comedy is formulaic and stereotypical, but a kind heart beats beneath its surface. Just when we fear the playwright means to abuse his characters, he proves he likes them well enough to keep them unpredictable. So does director Michael Menendian, and his cast are deeply at home with their parts.

Living in stylish digs (artistically assembled by Menendian and Leif Olsen), Barbara and David Kahn sell trendy canvases to social-climbing Manhattanites. They're shaken out of their sexless complacency when Barbara's control-freak sister, Trudy, and her mousy husband, Martin Heyman, drop in--and drop off Barbara and Trudy's mother, Sophie Greenglass, a supposed nightmare of irritating senility. The Heymans then rush off to rescue their promiscuous college-age daughter from a menage a trois. Far from reducing the Kahns' spotless household to her personal kvetching ground, Sophie warms it up. She also gets a second chance at love herself with 98-year-old artist Maurice Koenig (Tom Porter).

Character-driven, Jewish-American, prosex comedy like this requires truth as much as timing. Making the most of Bergman's zingers and running jokes, the six cast members play the surfaces until they deepen into life. Chuck Spencer and JoAnn Montemurro transform their glittering Gothamites from brittle to believable, and Liz Fletcher and Ron Quade are hilarious as the deeply doubting Heymans. But the show belongs to Esther McCormick, whose Sophie unfurls like the last rose of summer, all the more precious for her late bloom.

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