The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Nov 30, 2012

"Social Security" is bright, smart comedy

Posted by rdurbin

Some theatrical comedies come across as lightweight, as though they are confections, airy nothings. In the right hands, though, they can be carefully crafted so that the spread of substance doesn’t show or offend but can be served up in abundance.

The latter is the case in Coach House Theatre’s production of Andrew Bergman’s “Social Security.”

On surface the play is one of those “what to do with our aging mother” tales, where one daughter and her husband (Trudy and Martin, as played by Holly Humes and Mark Stoffer) want to off-load grouchy octagenarian Sophie (Maureen Estelle Guerin-Johnson) onto sister Barbara (Dede Klein) and her spouse David (Richard Worswick).

That’s the stuff of sitcoms – and Act I in this play. The plot can get plenty of laughs as it does here, although it generally isn’t as funny in real life.

Riding under the surface of all the characters’ lives is a drive to feel the pulse and energy of life. Barbara and David are art dealers who are caught up in the good life, but one that is about the representation of emotions and ideas rather than the living of them.

As they watch the mother transform from a walker-laden, angry, annoying old lady into a vibrant, well-dressed, happy and bustling woman after she meets artist Maurice (Figge), they turn their envy into the search for the same.

Trudy and Martin’s daughter (who never appears but who is a substantial force in the play nonetheless) is at college shacking up with two men in a ménage a trois. She is unabashed about her choice, yet ultimately lies to be rid of her parents so she can get on with it. She tells grandmother Sophie she’s going through a phase – and implies that she’s going to enjoy it.

Trudy and Martin have their problems. Martin has his own cravings for something more than being barked at by his wife, and so has taken up an affair of his own. When called on it, he is as shameless as his daughter.

It’s the pull of strong emotion that draws Martin and the others, except for Trudy, who complains that she’s left out. The security of their society strengthens by the end of the play. It seems to be an inter-generational thing; they come to understand each other enough to leave each other alone.

The actors in “Social Security” did a marvelous job. Klein and Worswick kept their hysterically funny banter going pretty much non-stop. Humes and Stoffer were humorously uptight and buttoned-down.

Dede Klein (left) and Maureen Estelle Guerin-Johnson in "Social Security." Photo courtesy of Coach House Theatre

Guerin-Johnson somewhat stole the show, not for acting (although she is great), but for the change of costumes from a frumpy housedress to a chic black dinner dress and finally to a stunning bright red knock-em-dead outfit at the end of the play.

Richard Figge (left) and Maureen Estelle Guerin-Johnson in "Social Security." Photo courtesy of Coach House Theatre

Wardrobe people are to be congratulated.

“Social Security” will be performed Thursday-Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through December 16 at Coach House Theatre, 732 W. Exchange St., Akron; 330-434-7741; Tickets are $18.

Back to top