Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey

Quirky More Fun than Bowling at 12 Miles West

Also see Bob's review of The Brother/Sister Plays Part 1: In the Red and Brown Water

Lenny Bart and Tricia Burr
At the start, veteran playwright Steven Dietz's More Fun than Bowling dons the guise of a light absurdist comedy.  The setting is a farm on a property fronted by a bowling alley in the little town of Turtle Rapids.  It is the property of Jake Tomlinson (Lenny Bart).  Mister Dyson (Michael Giorgio) is prancing around on stage dressed in black and brandishing a black pistol with comic menace.  Methinks that Dyson tell us that he is there to murder Jake.  About 80 minutes later as the play draws to a close, we learn that Dyson is really there to deliver money to Jake.  A perusal of the script would likely show that Dietz and his red herring of a pistol had contrived to make us think that we were hearing something that Dyson did not actually say.  In short order, Jake bursts out of the ground from one of three graves. Jake has been testing what it feels like to be buried.  A gypsy fortune teller had once told Jake that he "will be the third."  As his second, and, now, his third wife has each died, Jake believes that he will be next, and, inexplicably, that someone is coming to kill him.  Jake walks about the stage, talking to the as yet unseen occupants of the other two graves, wife #1 Loretta (Laura Ekstrand) and wife #2 Lois (Tricia Burr).  He cannot remember which grave holds whom, nor can he distinguish one from the other. Molly (Jenelle Sosa), Jake's teenage daughter, is placing one bowling pin decorated with a spinning top on each of their graves.  Molly addresses both as "Mom."  We will shortly learn that she and Jake were abandoned by her birth mother, Maggie, who was Jake's first wife.

It is at the point that Jake falls asleep and begins to dream of his life with Loretta and Lois that More Fun than Bowling switches gears from absurdist comedy to fanciful, lightly philosophical, sage romantic comedy.  It is in this mode that director John Pietrowski and his deft cast deliver a warmly entertaining More Fun than Bowling.  Both the plot and the characters remain quirky throughout, but comedic quirkiness is quite different from absurdum.

Dietz' humorous and insightful dialogue provides considerable pleasure.  Jake is teaching Lois how to bowl when the two fall into an embrace and kiss.  Molly enters and observes, "Good technique, wrong sport." Noting that, at his graduation party, half of the boys came dressed as Washington and half came dressed as Lincoln , Lenny continues, "Vo-Tech wasn't very deep in history.  One came dressed as F.D.R. because he didn't want to have to dance." Molly reads from a letter sent to her by her mother, "Fun is enough, everything else is theory.  He (Jake) made everything fun.  I thought life should be more, but I never found anything to make me as happy ... Don't spend your whole life in Turtle Rapids; and don't be afraid to go home, and when the fun stops, get off the train."

As interpreted by Lenny Bart, Jake is a bit off-center in a pleasantly goofy sort of way.  Because he never overplays Jake's eccentricities, Bart can segue into Jake's anguish without violating his established persona.  Laura Ekstrand is a clear-eyed, charming and restrained Loretta.  Tricia Burr brings a feisty, comic zest to the athletic Lois. There is a centered stillness in Jenelle Sosa's Molly which marks her as a young girl with an old soul. Director John Pietrowski has maintained a swift space and elicited fine performances from all hands.

Within its thin overlay of absurdum, More Fun than Bowling is a zany romantic comedy that audiences will be glad has come their way.

More Fun than Bowling by Steven Dietz continues performances (Thursday-Saturday 8 pm/ Sunday 3 PM) through June 7, 2009 at the 12 Miles West Theatre in residence at Playwrights Theatre, 33 Green Village Road, Madison, NJ 07940. Box Office: 973-259-9187; online:

More Fun Than Bowling by Steven Dietz, directed by John Pietrowski

Jake Tomlinson………………..Lenny Bart
Molly…………………………...Jenelle Sosa
Lois……………………………….Tricia Burr
Loretta……………………..Laura Ekstrand
Mister Dyson……………...Michael Giorgio

Photo: Photo by Melanie Ruskin  

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