D.C.’s Theater J completes its most financially rewarding season to date with “The Moscows of Nantucket,” a new dramedy by Sam Forman (“I Sing!,” “The Rise and Fall of Annie Hall”) about the levels of discord that prevent a prosperous family from savoring its many blessings. The message is relevant and the nonstop jokes are clever, but stretches of melodrama and tiresome characters keep the one-acter from hitting its intended high notes.
The setting is the idyllic beachside patio of the Moscow family’s vacation home in Nantucket (a picturesque set from Robbie Hayes). But all is not well. Years of festering resentment, jealousy, and bitterness involving the two self-absorbed sons have rendered this a decidedly dysfunctional household. It all reaches a predictable climax during a rare gathering of the clan.
Thirtysomething son Benjamin (James Flanagan) is an unsuccessful writer back living in the basement, wallowing in self pity and drowning his sorrows in his father’s vodka. Visiting for the week is brother Michael (Michael Glenn), a hugely successful TV producer in Hollywood, along with his new wife (Heather Haney) and nanny (Amal Saade). The father (Bob Rogerson) spends the week avoiding confrontation while the mother (Susan Rome) busies herself apologizing for her tactless comments that fan the smoldering embers.
Forman’s Simonesque one-liners lighten an otherwise heavy load, with the most refreshing cracks coming from Haney’s outspoken Georgia trailer-park bride learning to cope with a New England Jewish mindset. And Forman’s message about communication and forgiveness is earnestly told.
The play is also refreshingly topical, with frequent references to current TV hits like “30 Rock” and “Arrested Development.” One funny line about Bin Laden’s $1 million compound is ripped straight from the headlines.
Yet “Moscows” remains a work in progress, weakened by awkward transitions, a predictable plot and some insufficient character development. It eventually becomes tedious as everyone gets under each other’s skin. Besides, Flanagan’s one-dimensional portrayal of the perpetually whining Benjamin makes it impossible to engender empathy for a pivotal character who in real life should have been forcefully booted from the nest.