Assisted Loving: Dating With My Dad, by Bob Morris. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Brian Sills, Cheryl Stern, Barry Pearl; photo: provided
"Is being so controlling working out for ya?"
Embarking on a new journey aboard a fine old vessel is a great thing. Setting foot into a theater I've never been to before is sort of the same thing. So, you can say that my first foray into the venue known as The Rep, or CapRep, inevitably Capital Repertory Theatre in Albany, NY, should be an enthralling, bounding, exuberant experience. Luckily for me, it was just that.
A world premire, Bob Morris's play "Assisted Loving: Dating With My Dad" is a four-hander that brings us a world of interesting people. A four-hander means there are four actors on stage and while two of them play the protaganists, the other two play all of the people they meet, are confounded by, love, despise and are vulnerable to in the course of the year that this play portrays.
The two "hyper" people are played by Cheryl Stern and Max Wolkowitz who, as Edie and Max, turn out to be people who love people, at least they love the two other people in the play. Stern also plays a wealthy blonde bombshell, a decrepit old near-bag-lady, a whole host of women who are on-line to meet a man to marry, shack up with or just have plain old fashioned high-end sex. She manages to be sexy as the blonde, hilarious as the first date and enthrallingly hot as the sweet woman, Edie Blau, who loves Sol Katz as she has done for years. This actress has a way with defining character that helps her transform herself from one to the other quickly, with a prop or two and a vocal similarity that explain, in their own way, why Sol is drawn to each and every one of them. But her morality is very real when she plays Edie. We understand her completely and that is a tribute to the actress more than to anyone else whose name is in the program.
Wolkowitz defines his many men through voice, intonation, posture, costume, attitude and so much more. Here is a very versatile actor quickly extracting, with souls bared, the many men to whom David Katz is partially drawn. The oddest of these presumably soulless bar-boys is Max, whose simpler structure makes him a perfect counterpoint for the psychologically maimed David, the hero of the play. In the very apt hands of Wolkowitz, Max emerges from this virtual crowd of characters to become the one true man in the play, the one who understands from the get-go who he is dealing with and how to win the human game of loving and supporting. This gradual excursion into David's very existence makes Max a compelling creature indeed.
David is the sort of gay man who makes other gay men cringe, makes them a bit embarrassed to be thought of in the same way as someone might see David. Brian Sills makes this effete young man into an almost repulsive human being, and yet there is always something there that you like. Sills goes to the edge of possibility at times as he creates this sad-sack who cannot sustain a relationship with anyone, including his own father, for fear that the relationship won't work out which it can't possibly do since he won't let things happen. When life's transitions force him into his father's presence at the top of the second act, Sills' David finally has to begin the process of maturing - he is already aging and his essence really has to hustle to catch up - and when he does it he becomes less hateful rather than more acceptable. Sills lets us see where he is taking his character but the play barely allows us to see what an acheivement lies ahead for David and Max.
Barry Pearl's performance as Sol, the reluctant patriarch, is what holds the play together and produces most of the lighter, more humorous moments. This is a comedy and even in anger Pearl never lets us forget that. His hands flutter; his face prunes; his body shatters even an old man's reality; he dances like an ancient Jewish Fiddler on a hot tin roof. From his first moments graveside at his departed wife's burial plot to his last in the same locale, his work here is perfection. And you don't have to be Jewish to see all of that either.
Bob Morris's play, based on his own memoir, is touching and amusing and informing and elusive all at once. There is so much of thought and concept here and only two hours to get it on the stage and living. The play addresses the difficult issues of loss and parenting and honesty and modern reality. It leaves the impression that one generation will never give up what has worked for centuries past while the next generation will only suffer the illegitimate relationships of hardware and software and only occasionally underwear.
What director Gordon Greenberg, ably abetted by his design cohorts Paul Tate dePoo III (sets), Robert Danton (lights and projections), and Tristan Raines (costumes), has done with this material is to provide a fluid vein of visuals that act as guide and escort for us through the murky world of Sol and David (note the biblical reference to David and Solomon reversed so that the son becomes the father). Greenberg pulls off a myriad of miracles of timing as costumes, wigs, voices and sets change with a finger-snap providing a world of humanity and locales with a liquid rhythm.
You might think I liked this play and this production, this world premiere in Albany, NY. Well, you'd be right. I thought this play was slight on weight, weighty on emotions and emotional about true loves, past and present. I had a delightful time at The Rep with a play I know I'll see again somewhere. Especially if other producers see this production just as I hope you will.
Barry Pearl and Brian Sills; photo: provided
Cheryl Stern and Barry Pearl; photo: provided
Brian Sills and Max Wolkowitz; photo: provided
Assisted Loving: Dating With My Dad plays at Capital Rep, 111 North Pearl Street, Albany, NY through February 19. For information and tickets go to their website at www.capitalrep.org or call 518-445-7469.