Vet TV scripters Marley Sims and Elliot Shoenman (“Home Improvement”) have fashioned a deeply moving, often comical excursion into the life of an aging Brooklyn widow who must overcome the ghosts of her past before she can deal with the self-serving agendas of her two combative middle-aged children. Helmer Mark L. Taylor admirably guides an eight-member ensemble seamlessly through the shifting dynamics of this well-crafted work. The generally excellent cast could have used more preview time in front of an audience, but still give ample credence to one of the more notable legiters to preem this year.
The action centers on Evelyn Horowitz (Sheila Oaks), a woman in her mid-70s who has been living in the same Brooklyn apartment for 50 years, well after the early death of her husband and the departure of her adult children. Sheila’s resolute spirit of self-reliance is tested when her divorced, life-anguished daughter Carol (Melanie Chartoff) and her rigid, workaholic son Roger (Jim Ortlieb) learn that Evelyn’s building is going co-op.
As Carol and Roger maneuver to turn Evelyn’s home into an investment, Evelyn interprets their motives as a plan to eventually move her into a nursing home. This sets off an emotional explosion within this woman who for years has been repressing her own guilt over the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband.
The Sims/Shoenman thematic throughline provides a poignant, deeply personal glimpse into the dilemma the elderly and their adult children face as life expectancies continue to increase. The scripters and helmer Taylor impressively underscore Evelyn’s current crises by a series of well-orchestrated flashback scenes that chronicle Young Evelyn (Sally Saffioti) and her exuberant hubby Benny (Aaron Jettleson), from their first visit to the apartment, through the horrifically cathartic period when Benny’s ragingly unforgiving invalid father Abe (Murray Run) lived with them.
Oaks inhabits the persona of Evelyn, an intelligent, humor-filled woman who can still be reduced to a pitiful heap of raw nerves just at the mention of the words “nursing home.” She is matched perfectly by Saffioti in speech and physical mannerisms. It is an interesting maturation arc that shows Young Evelyn suffering in silence the insults of Abe, whereas the elderly Evelyn won’t begin to put up with the miscreant behavior of her children.
The comic relief in this work is provided by the constantly bickering duo of Carol and Roger, played to sibling rivalry perfection by Chartoff and Ortlieb. The way they maliciously jab at each other as they are mutually attacking their mother’s refrigerator gives perfect evidence of a lifetime of warfare waged around the kitchen table. Also having her comedic moments is Evelyn’s lifelong neighbor, Rose (Jennie Ventriss).
On the dark side, Rubin exudes a powerful, tangible hate for his son’s wife, even as she is attempting to be totally subservient to his unreasonable demands. Jettleson’s Benny, though not quite in command of his lines, believably makes the transition from buoyant young father-to-be to the life-beaten, guilt-ridden son who knows he must make a choice between his family’s happiness and his father’s unyielding expectations of him.
Complementing the proceedings is the period-perfect Brooklyn kitchen setting of Nathan Matheny.
Once this production has completed its current run, it should definitely have the legs to move up to a larger venue or even a run off-Broadway.