Just as kitchen-sink dramas populated the Depression, “sensitive-man” comedies infested Broadway in the 1970s. Bernard Slade is one of the latter genre’s most egregious offenders and “Special Occasions” is one of the examples ofthe playwright’s work.
This tired exploration of a couple’s divorce over a decade’s time is similar to many of the formulaic plays that graced Broadway in those years, with leading men and women waxing not so wittily on their laundry lists of problems.
At the start of this one, Amy (Caroline McWilliams) and Michael (Steve Vinovich) divorce after 15 years of marriage. They run into each other on “special occasions” such as deaths, marriages, births and graduations. Through it all, and subsequent marriages and divorces, they struggle to remain friends.
Slade merely assembles a tin soldier lineup of the era’s popular self-help traumas: divorce, drugs, alcoholism, vasectomies, cult religion, extra-marital affairs and life-threatening injuries.
McWilliams and Vinovich are left onstage without life preservers; both actors struggle to pepper their exchanges, especially McWilliams, who repeatedly flashes a dazzling smile as though it makes up for the lack of substance in the piece. Vinovich is a trifle bland as the caring father who meanders through the play having affairs. But again, he’s shackled to a role that is borne of an era when drinking, smoking and then giving them up was supposed to be a laugh riot.
Tom Alderman’s direction keeps the pace lively and moves the characters about the stage, but he doesn’t push his actors far enough. Maybe if they showed some real George-and-Martha-type fireworks, the piece might hold together.
James Noone’s revolving sets, full of nooks and crannies, deserve the most applause.