An inert two-hander based on co-scripters Sam Bobrick and Julie Stein’s 1994 comedic novel of letters, helmer John Bowab and thesps Sally Struthers and Jeff Marlow valiantly struggle to inject some veracity into this awkward stage work. The hopelessly inadequate script, which chronicles the dysfunctional mother/son correspondence of grotesquely possessive widow Doris Levine (Struthers) and her emotionally stilted 31-year-old son Sheldon (Marlow), sadly defeats their efforts.
As conceived by Bobrick and Stein, the relationship between Doris and Sheldon is almost totally played out by snail mail as each attempts to outdo the other with an endless stream of penned jabs and jibes, including generous helpings of accusation, castigation, recrimination, rebuke and denial. Bowab strives to keep the action moving crisply about Keith Mitchell’s nicely detailed split-location set, but neither he nor the actors can overcome the built-in dramatic quagmire that is created by having the only two characters on stage relating primarily to the letters they are either writing or reading rather than to each other.
The action is further exacerbated by the scripters’ overlay of ludicrous, arbitrary adventures that include Doris’ marriage to a Tibetan guru, her sudden rise to fame on daytime reality TV and her affair with a congenial cross-dresser “who looks better in my clothes than I do.” Meanwhile, Sheldon finds himself compelled to become a faux Elvis, an itinerant cowhand, a panhandler, a deranged pilgrim to the town of Yuma, Ariz., and the composer of an anti-mother song, performed to the melody of “Greensleeves.”
These plot bits serve no purpose other than to supply mother and son with opportunities to conclude their epistles with supposed laughter-inducing zingers. That Doris succeeds as well as she does is due to Struthers’ well-honed comic timing as well as her ability to invest myriad emotional levels into Doris’ relentless torrent of son-bashing.
Sheldon’s lines are not nearly as funny. Marlow, who primarily plays Sheldon in a state of high angst or befuddlement, has the dubious task of principally providing setup fodder for Struthers’ Doris. Two stars are recent replacements for previously announced Penny Marshall and Desmond Harrington.
Production values are first rate, highlighted by the evocative lighting of Jeremy Pivnick and the character-perfect costumes of Denitsa Bliznakova.