Half and Half by James Sherman. Directed by Phil Rice. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
"If you have a problem, then you have a problem."
Tony Pallone, Teresa Whitt, Erin Waterhouse; photo: provided
Susan and Stewart Grant have a problem. It seems to be a marital problem but it isn't. The problem, really, is that it is spring of 1970 and the woman's movement is inspiring some women all around the country to take charge of their lives, to channel their enthusiasms into something other than home and family and to become the people they were meant to be. This is Susan's problem, her new goals and how to achieve them. This is also Stewart's problem for he perfers the status quo - even if his own status has altered - and he doesn't want a woman, plain and simple, rocking his boat anymore than it already has been rocked.
Susan is about to rock it hard and permanently and as the first act of this light political comedy proceeds she does just that, beginning by hanging up the telephone on her own mother and destroying Stew's traditional breakfast. It's all down hill from there and Susan practically coasts on the mud she leaves in her wake. It's a delicious take on the 1970s and it plays wonderfully on the stage at the Theater Barn in New Lebanon, New York.
Their daughter Lucy is the third character in the play and her reactions and attitudes perfectly set up the second act, set 35 years later in the same room, after she inherits the house in which she grew up. Now Lucy is the adult with a husband and a daughter. Her husband, Jeremy, is the epitome of the stay-at-home dad with a working wife and a strident and demanding child named Kate. The time is still breakfast on a school day and the struggles to survive the morning are different, yet the same.
James Sherman's play is a fascinatingly light look at the problems of a family unit in these two very different eras. Issues are big. Life relationships are complex. Parent/child parameters are ridiculously unchanged and the marital relationships are still under the same sort of strains though for very different reasons. This is a delicious little play about all of our lives. Everyone we know is on the postage stamp stage in New Lebanon, New York but we can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that we, ourselves, are not among the present or the missing; we're the flies on the wall.
Phil Rice's production of this play is very satisfying and he has a talented cast to thank for a lot of that. Erin Waterhouse is Susan Grant who uses her husband's last name but prefers to use her own first name rather than be Mrs. Stewart... She has the courage as an actress in this day and age to play the late "Leave it to Beaver" mom who wants to break the mold with clarity and honesty. When she plays her own daughter in Act Two, an independent woman who prefers her maiden name to her husband's last name, who is an attorney on a career spin into oblivion thanks to the old-boy network. She takes that bit in her teeth and makes it appallingly clear that rights are only rights when they're taken but that love still has a place in her life. It's a wonderful combination of performances.
As her two husbands Tony Pallone pulls off the coup of the evening. He is the Pater, the negator in Act One and the fritata Dada in the second act. As Stewart he is clinically depressed and equally depressing; as Jeremy his cheery disposition is as hard to take as a horse pill for sleeplessness. Pallone is both moving and humorous in both roles. He has a wonderful way with character traits. It's a choice casting for this play, having a talent like Pallone in these parts.
The two daughters (young) Lucy and Kate are played well by Teresa Whitt. Not as young as her characters, Whitt does teenage nicely and she is very believable without ever falling into the well of caricature.
The usually well-crafted set by Abe Phelps graces the stage and Allen E. Phelps' lighting is just fine including the special effects that give a kick to the ending of the play. Logane Robinson's costumes depict the eras perfectly.
This is a lovely way to end a season. See it if you can. You won't be sorry you did.
Half and Half plays through September 21 at the Theater Barn, 654 Route 20, New Lebanon, NY. For information and tickets call the box office at 518-794-8989 or go on line at www.theaterbarn.com.