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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


The Loman Family Picnic

The Loman Family Picnic
Rachel Jones (center, front); (l-r back) Aaron Simon Gross, Michael Kushner, Lisa Bansavage, Buzz Bovshow
Just days before seeing The Loman Family Picnic by Donald Margulies, I also saw Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy and was struck at the similarity in these stories, though they are worlds apart. Both feature a middle-aged married couple with two children in a seemingly ideal relationship - a relationship defined by societal norms and expectations. In Tolstoy's story it is a privileged family in ideal turn-of-the-century Czarist Russia. In Margulies' story it is a middle-class, Jewish American family living out the post-1950s American Dream in Coney Island, New York. But happiness can remain unfulfilled and hearts left empty when met with the reality of that ideal and that dream. Tolstoy handles his couple's crumbling relationship with drama, and Margulies handles his with comedy.

It is likely that Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Donald Margulies would be surprised at being compared to Tolstoy in any way, but not surprised to be tied to playwright Arthur Miller. For Margulies admits to being strongly influenced by Arthur Miller, and that The Loman Family Picnic, originally produced in 1989, is an unpredictable tribute to Miller's Death Of A Salesman. The family's youngest son, Mitchell Loman, is modeled after Margulies as a child. Both Mitchell and Margulies regrettably see their families as nearly identical to the Willy Loman's family in Death Of A Salesman. To drive a wedge between those images, Mitchell creates a fanciful family picnic in his head. And not just any family outing, but a mini-musical!

Margulies' characters are colorful, well written, and well performed. The Loman Family Picnic is, on the surface, the story of the upcoming Bar Mitzvah of a couple's oldest boy, Stewie. The narrative delivery by the mother works well for the show, but it becomes awkward to have more than one narrator when younger son Mitchell takes a turn as well. I found the addition of the character of the deceased Aunt Marsha interesting, and charmingly done by actress Rachel Jones. She acts as an emancipating voice of the wife's dissipating youth and her fear of a complacently dull life ahead.

The mini-musical of Mitchell's imagination is a cumbersome stumbling block in this show. Its trite rhymes, indistinct melodies, and hammy vaudeville staging may be explainable as the product of the 11-year-old character's mind. However, that only works as a comic bit for about 30 seconds. As Mitchell, actor Aaron Simon Gross has an unusually beautiful voice and real vocal musicianship. The rest of the cast are painful to listen to and watch during this section, and I couldn't wait for it to end. The adults actually look a tad apologetic as they are performing. Thankfully, once that is over, the show is back on course. After an emotional confrontation with wife and children, over the expense of the Bar Mitzvah celebration, the husband goes out to cool off. Upon his return, the audience is given four possible endings to the story; each one is played out and rewound. We all have those moments in our life that could turn out so differently depending on how they are played out. How many of us have, like Margulies, have played them out in our heads? So, regardless of which of Margulies' multiple endings you choose to believe, they all work because they all are true to heart at some level.

The 1965 10th floor high-rise set is great for this piece. The decor, clothes, hair, and music all have the right feel. (I swear I have pictures from the '60s of my own mother wearing some of the same clothes.) Lisa Bansavage is a hoot as Doris, and Buzz Bovshow really shines as husband Herbie in the confrontation scene. The two older actors and the two young actors also have decent chemistry and timing together. If you can tolerate the musical section of the play, this is an enjoyable show with characters that speak to us.

Production dates of The Loman Family Picnic at the Caldwell Theatre Company are April 10th - May 22nd, 2005. For tickets to this and other shows, you may contact the Caldwell at 561-241-7432 or on line at: www.caldwelltheatre.com.

The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. They are located at 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487-1640 in the Levitz Plaza. Look for the theatres' proposed relocation to their new space in the fall of 2006.

Cast
Doris: Lisa Bansavage*
Herbie: Buzz Bovshow*
Marsha: Rachel Jones*
Mitchell: Aaron Simon Gross
Stewie: Michael Kushner

Crew
Director: Michael Hall
Original Music Composer: David Shire
Scenic Design: Tim Bennett
Lighting Design: Thomas Salzman
Costume Design: Susan Stowell
Sound Design: Steve Shapiro
Stage Manager: Jeffry George*

* Designates member of Actor's equity Association


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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