‘Social Security’ for laughs, Nov 17, 2013

Perfectly tailored to local talent

Social-Security-PR4By Philip Pearce

There’s a pleasant, light, 1980-something comedy playing at Carmel Valley’s Magic Circle Theatre these weekends. Social Security abounds in nice one-liners and recognizable upper middle class character conflicts—with emphasis always on the light. Screen and television writer Andrew Bergman weaves his plot, such as it is, around matters as potentially explosive as inter-generational warfare, the eruption of 20th century teen-aged sexual freedom and the collapse of traditional marriage, but not so as you would feel much of the pain. What matters is that the dialogue is clever, the situations funny if familiar and the script tailored to the talents of six gifted local actors.

We’re in the glitzy Upper East Side home of art dealer David Kahn and his wife Barbara, when suburbanite in-laws Trudy and Martin Heyman, bent on pursuing an elusive and sexually obsessed daughter, bust in and dump Trudy’s and Barbara’s gorgon mother willy-nilly on the Kahns.

Generational battles ensue, till an artist client of David’s enters the fray and changes the situation in ways I won’t spoil for you by revealing.

Suzanne Sturn moves the action adroitly without succumbing to the farce director’s temptation to move it so fast you miss dialogue or the real, if superficial, character development and contrasts. The cast do a wonderful job.

As the embattled David, James Brady has the appropriate social ease of an art dealer who once housed Picasso in the same guest room being commandeered by his terrifying mother in law. It’s a joy to see his smooth veneer crack in a funny second act debacle concerning a clothes closet. As his wife, Mary Spence weathers even more violent domestic disasters and does so with an unfailing comic skill. Her shifts from screaming frustration to determined self control are a delight to watch.

Sherry Kefalas is hilarious as the corny out-of-town sister caught in the middle of a two way struggle, one with a once demure daughter now turned nymphomaniac, the other with a permanent parental houseguest from hell she is determined to offload. Kefalas’s face is a study in comic action and, even more important, reaction. Some of her funniest moments are her silent responses, sometimes to the needs of her own make up and appearance, sometimes to the slings and arrows of unwelcome opinion people keep hurling at her. Joe Donofrio, hampered only by occasional dialect lapses, is a perfect foil for Kefalas as a seemingly respectable suburban hubby with a guilty secret.

The source of all the upheaval is Sophie Greengrass, who wields her geriatric walker like a blunderbuss and does a discreet semi-striptease at an inconvenient moment. Virginia Bell manages to trump even the sound and fury of her frantic extended family in what starts off looking like a one-note comic strip characterization and blossoms out into some delightful and artfully played surprises.

Helped, as who wouldn’t be, by Michael Robbins as the sly and dapper Maurice Koenig. Robbins performs with an effortless comic grace that enables him to face the most threatening of plot crises with an ease based on years of satisfying experience: Keonig’s as a 99-year-old best-selling painter, Robbins’ as a longtime and well-loved Monterey Peninsula actor.

Social Security continues, Fridays and Saturdays at 7, Sundays at 2, through December 15.

Photo: Virginia Bell, Mary Spence, James Brady and Michael Robbins