Richard Lenz’s “Familiar Places” is a pleasantly diverting, none too deep look at late middle-age love among ex-spouses. While the playwright, who plays the lead, may have been striving for telling moments on the human condition, he settles for an assured cuteness.
Syndicated film reviewer Hank Kessler (Lenz) goes to his ex-wife Sarah (Sharon Spelman), now a psychologist who works at home, for some therapy. It’s a ruse for being there when their nearly 30-year-old son, Jason (Steven Scott Jones), arrives home with new girlfriend Amy (Lori Thimsen).
Hank and Sarah are surprised to discover that the young couple have married and that Amy has four children from three previous relationships. She’s also obnoxious, speaks with a Southern drawl and towers over Jason. Jason is giving up a law career to open a pub-restaurant with Amy.
If that isn’t enough, Jason asks his parents to watch the four kids while he and Amy start their new business. It’ll mean Hank has to move back with his ex-wife. Hank and Sarah accept; they’d do anything for their only child.
If one can swallow the situation, the repartee often brings some easy laughter. The story is reeled in like a small trout on a thick line. Only when Amy gets shot by one of her children’s arrows does the familiar get shaken a little.
As playwright, Lenz brings a polished pacing to his humor, though he misses pushing his smart premise far enough. A man being analyzed by his ex-wife is a treasure chest barely opened; her vocation is mostly used as a device for amusing lines.
As actor, Lenz has a charming presence. His role suggests something along the lines of Noel Coward, but without the elegance and telling wit; in his sweaters and his newly gained self-revelation, he’s more like Alan Alda in “Four Seasons.”
Spelman’s doctor-wife is not a powerful enough presence to stand up to Hank’s seemingly more active mind, but the actress projects an affable nature that dampens some of the brassier lines.
For all the dialogue that suggests Jason is as bullheaded as Hank, Jones makes his character mostly cordial and accepting. The contradictory character is partly the playwright’s fault by not making Jason push more and having him react to a potential divorce by crying.
Thimsen’s Amy is right on the mark — so ingratiating, pushy and self-involved that the other characters should be at her throat. They’re not.
Missing in Marcia Rodd’s otherwise serviceable direction are the physical clues that the ex-spouses are attracted to each other despite the years of mutual anger. They don’t touch, or even try to, until the last moments. Their attraction appears intellectualized — which would be fine if the patter were sharper or less whiny.
The set design by Ron Woodward adds an East Coast elegance to Sarah’s Santa Barbara home, her salmon-colored living room filled with antique furniture and imported carpets.
Shelley A. Goldstein’s costume design brings mostly casualness. Debra Garcia Lockwood’s light design is effective.