Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley
All the Days
The play begins with Ruth Zweigman (Caroline Aaron) holed up in her Long Island home, unable to control the emotional eating she uses as a coping mechanism to deal with the death of her beloved son David. Her diabetes is out of controlshe's just had eye surgery and her foot is at risk for amputation. Her thoughtful, pragmatic daughter Miranda (Stephanie Janssen), a single mother who works as a social worker, arrives from Philadelphia to care for her, and the bickering begins. After a tense first scene that also involves Ruth's upwardly mobile sister Monica (Leslie Ayvazian), it is decided that Ruth will come home with Miranda.
There really is no reason for this development, other than that it's needed to propel the play forward. It's clear that mother and daughter can't stand to be in the same room with each other, and even though Ruth is ostensibly infirm, Aaron's characterization of her seems surprisingly hale and hearty. Ruth is meant to be helping Miranda's son Jared (Matthew Kuenne) prepare for his bar mitzvahwhich isn't for another six weeksbut that is further complicated by Miranda's admission that after years of agnosticism, she's found faith. Christian faith.
Miranda's conversion is one of many plot threads that Rothstein introduces but doesn't follow through on. It's used for comedic purposes ("My daughter, the Shiksa," Ruth bemoans), but adequate time is not spent explaining what caused this mid-life awakening, or why Ruth, who is nowhere near devout, has such a hard time accepting what seems to be a genuine held belief. The other disclosures that Rothstein drops, including the revelation that David's death may not have been a tragic accident, are merely glanced at, never explored.
Aaron and Janssen are both fine actors who've excelled in other plays, but they commit the cardinal sin of family drama: They're playing mother and child, yet they act like they just met five minutes before taking the stage. It's hard to fault their poor performances, though; the play's sputtering script could stop Meryl Streep dead in her tracks. The rest of the large castwhich also includes Ron Orbach as Ruth's schlemiel of an ex-husband, Raphael Nash Thompson as her potential late-in-life love interest, and Justin Hagan as Miranda's good-natured, long-suffering boyfriendtry valiantly to bring dimension to their cardboard characters.
The play benefits from a fine physical production, with a superbly lived-in set by Daniel Ostling and perfect costumes by Tony winner Jess Goldstein. Mann is a skillful director, but even she cannot liven up this interminable evening. In a time when the theater is alive with so many vibrant voices, it's hard to justify the expenditure of presenting a tedious throwback like All the Days.
All the Days continues at the Roger Berlind Theatre (91 University Place, Princeton) through Sunday, May 29, 2016. Tickets ($25-94.50) can be purchased online at www.mccarter.org, by phone (609-258-2787), or in person at the box office (Monday-Saturday, 10-6; Sunday, 11-6; open until 8pm on show days).