PLAY TIME — Okay, so we all have dysfunctional families.And their doppelgangers have been runningrampant,loving and hating one another, as in “August–Osage County,” orattempting to provide hilarityonstage a la Kaufman and Hart’s “You Can’t TakeIt With You.”So enough already!
The latest entry in the “whimsical family” category is aheavy-handed attempt at merriment, but theactors, unfortunately, come off asjust trying too hard.It’s a play byMeryl Cohn called “Reasons toLive,” and it’s a joint production of theSkylight Theatre Company and Open Fist Theatre Company,both of which have ahistory of presenting well-received plays.
In this one, the central character is The Mother, ahigh-spirited, self-absorbed ditz who breaks intosong at the top of her lungsfrom time to time to sing out of sync with the singers on her CDs.Playedby Judith Scarpone, she does a goodjob of outbouncing the rest of the cast, as if she were aspiringto be theAuntie Mame of Great Neck, Long Island.She makes the rest of the cast look downrightdreary.
The occasion for the family get-together is the scheduledwedding of oldest daughter Jane (JessicaIres Morris), who, at 43 is marryingfor the second time.She appears in herwedding dress todiscover that her intended husband doesn’t intend to show up.
Then there is Emily (Amanda Weier), who comes to the weddingwith her latest lover, Heather(Jordana Berliner), all huggy and kissy.This is only their second date, but Heather decidesthat thetwo of them should get married.(After all, they’ve got the food right there!)
And, rounding out this cozy little group is Andrew (ScottSpeiser), Emily’s twin brother.At 33,he livesin his pajamas at his mother’s house and conducts all his clandestinebusiness dealings on thetelephone.Whathe is selling, however, is not drugs.
Andrew is sullen and anti-social until a customer, Tara(Jennifer Schoch), shows up.She is asawkward and shy as he, and watching the two of them get together is therelative high point of theplay.
(Apropos of nothing, it’s fun to know that Speiser hasperformed all over the world as one of the BlueMen in the Blue Man Group.)
And finally there is Helen (Katherine Griffith), an aunt orsomething, who is presumably on hand toprovide comic relief.
Members of the family occasionally drop a Yiddishism intotheir conversation, and by this you’resupposed to understand that they’reJewish, although this has nothing to do with anything else in theplay.
(The rabbi they keep referring to could just as easily be apriest or a minister.)But there is atleastone funny ethnic line.As Heatherbegins a convoluted answer to a speculative question, Emilyinterrupts toexplain, “Most questions don’t require answers if you’re Jewish.”
And so it goes.SusanMorgenstern, who directs this production, isknown locally for her work at many of the most respectedsmall theaters in the area.She alsoco-taught a course in American musical comedy with Tom Lehrer at U.C. SantaCruz.
Jeff McLaughlin, who designed the set and lighting,is a multiple-award winner. Thetraditional living room he designed for”Reasons to Live”, however, while pleasant enough andserviceable, is largelyunderwhelming.
“Reasons to Live” will continue at the Skylight Theatre,1816? N. Vermont Ave. in L.A. on Fridaysand Saturdays at 8 and Sundays at 3through December 14th.Call 213-761-7061for tickets or visithttp://skylighttix.com