The old saying goes, “When Momma ain’t happy – ain’t nobody happy.” And naturally Momma isn’t going to be happy after being dumped in her eldest daughter’s upscale New York City apartment after previously living a quiet life with her youngest daughter out in Mineola. Fun of the dysfunctional variety ensues in this family comedy as Cockpit in Court presents Social Security in their upstairs cabaret. Directed by Albert J. Boeren, this madcap comedy sticks two posh married art dealers in one hell of a dilemma when they get stuck with Momma as the wife’s younger sister and her conservative husband rush off to Buffalo to save their only daughter from the crazy sex-driven lifestyle of college. Hilarity and nonsense and an all-round feel good production, this show is zany in the brainy and it gave me a bellyache from laughing so hard.
Granted, the script, written by Andrew Bergman, is mostly rubbish and the jokes mostly terrible – but they’re actually funny again, and Director Albert J. Boeren manages to coax sheer hysteria out from between the lines. Boeren’s work with the small cast guides them to play everything over the top; the yelling and constant exasperation from Barbara, the over-exaggerated Jewish stereotype from Momma Sophie; all of which leads to one hilarious bout of the ‘laugh-out-louds.’ Boeren keeps the scene changes tight so that the momentum of the comedy never falters, a key component to making this rather clunky script actually work. And while the play itself may not have much pizzazz, Boeren and the cast give it their all and then some, making up for Bergman’s textual shortcomings.
Costume Designer James J. Fasching helps to distinguish the upper echelon from the humdrum every day, sticking Trudy and Martin (the lower-class siblings from Mineola) in faded tweed and garish floral pattern dresses respectively. A more pressed and polished suit is used for David, the aristocratic art dealer, and his wife, Barbara, gets a series of expensive looking evening dresses, always looking as if she could pop into the Ritz Carlton at a moment’s notice. Fasching’s crowning glory, however, is the crazy housecoats reserved for Momma Sophie, fitting for a woman her age.
This play’s success rides on the shoulders of every individual settling into the niche of their character and then magnifying it tenfold. Maurice Koenig (John Rowe), the famous 100 year-old artist, only appears briefly in the second act but when he’s on stage he fills up every old-artist stereotype in existence. Rowe toddles like an older gentleman, playing perfectly into the subtle hearing loss with slightly confused but pleasant expressions on his face, and he exaggerates his Jewish accent when speaking with Sophie. Rowe is an overall delight on the stage knowing exactly when and where to be charming and when to simply exist.
Trudy (Regina Rose) is another character with the heavy accent. Rose really digs into her Jewish accent, making it very clear that she is a woman of principle and frugality when she speaks. But what makes her character so fun is her prudish nature. Watching her facial expressions near the end of the play when she receives shocking news is priceless, her whole body going into a state of petrified shock. Her interactions with her stage husband create a good deal of unspoken tension, building up a key plot point in this slightly convoluted production.
Martin (Thom Peters) plays into the stereotype of the Schlemiel. Extremely frugal and very conservative, his subtle little headshakes and disapproving glances make his character that much more comical, and when he starts to describe the horrors and atrocities of his poor daughter Sarah, his face and voice convey so much melodramatic anguish that you can’t help but laugh. His character’s anxieties dissolve away somewhat in the second act when a major reveal occurs, so keep your eyes open for this major shift.
As for Sophie (Marge Ricci) her demeanor couldn’t be any more ‘night and day’ if she tried. Starting out as the grumpy, slightly annoyed ‘mother knows best’ character, Ricci embodies every kvetching mother, Jewish or not, that has ever existed in the history of mothers. Her slightly wise-cracking sense of nettling at her daughter really drives the tension during scenes with Barbara, and she knows how to turn a phrase to her comic advantage. Watching Ricci soften as her character falls in love is a magnificent transformation and its almost hard to believe it’s the same character. Ricci is a great comic performer and really has a sharp understanding of timing in all senses of the word.
Barbara (Jennifer Skarzinski) knows one volume, and it’s loud. This plays into the melodramatic over-the-top approach of Boeren’s direction. Each moment of exasperation is more elaborate than the last, Skarzinski throwing her whole body, arms and all, into these moments of pure frustration. The character makes mountains out of molehills in every situation, constantly fretting over the worst case scenario and Skarzinski plays to the nine’s her characters complete exacerbation, at the top of her lungs; mental and physical anguish radiating off her in tsunami-style waves. Her interactions with Sophie create the most absurdly comic moments in the production and her flabbergasted glances at her husband are priceless.
But bringing home the bacon in this one is David (Greg Guyton). In his irreverent and flippant manner he brings barrels of comedy by the bucket load. Completely inappropriate in most scenarios, Guyton’s character is all over the place. His physical expressions match his vocal eruptions and he’s just laughable. Half the time the words he’s saying seem wildly off the wall or out of place but he delivers them with such gusto that you can’t help but laugh. He does the best with the script, really driving laughs into most of his lines, managing to do so without seeming overly contrived. Guyton’s attempt to splice levity into all situations is one of the main gears that keeps this play functioning.
So come along for a good laugh! The fine cast of Social Security makes it all worth while.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one intermission.
Social Security plays through June 30, 2013 at Cockpit in Court— on the main stage of the Theatre Building of the Community College of Baltimore County’s Essex Campus – 7201 Rossville Boulevard, in Rosedale, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (443) 840-2787, or purchase them online.
Amanda, thank you the lovely costume review.
James J. Fasching III