By Bill Hirschman
Sometimes the star of the show is the words.
Main Street Players does a credible job bringing life to the comedy 37 Postcards, but its prime virtue is Michael McKeever’s hilarious script, replete with witty lines, classic vaudevillian timing and copious opportunities for actors to do more slow burns than Jack Benny.
Much of the comedy though is not the verbal byplay so much as the humor built into the daffy and demented characters – a family of offbeat zanies who nonchalantly accept the absurd as “normal” even when some new piece of reality intrudes.
It’s impossible to give a flavor of this tale without revealing some spoilers, but don’t fret, there is a cornucopia of them: For starters, the Sutton mansion in exclusive Darien, Connecticut, is tilting into a sinkhole. The pearls and teacup doyenne Aunt Ester gleefully operates a phone sex business out of the kitchen. The matriarch Evelyn somehow has failed to notice over several years that her curmudgeonly mother is not dead as she supposes, but has been living in a room off the kitchen indulging her predilection for X-rated comments. A stuffed moose unnerves visitors to the guest room – not a head, the whole moose.
The family trust fund scion Avery has returned home after an 8-year-absence abroad to introduce his fiancée to the family, from his father who plays golf in the middle of the night to his mother who persistently mistakes the fiancée for the maid who quit two weeks earlier – even though Avery keeps correcting her.
There’s some more serious underpinnings to the evening, the idea of whether you can go home again after running away from it to avoid deeper problems. And in the family’s concentrated myopia against reality that includes death, there’s also an unspoken vibe echoing the line in Man of La Mancha about “perhaps maddest of all is seeing life as it is and not as it should be,” which should be the Sutton family slogan. Utter denial certainly ranks high in the Sutton family list of coping mechanisms.
Actor Chris D’Angelo serves here as the show’s director and he has helped his cast embrace McKeever’s quirky premises and well-crafted comic dialogue that requires a certain timing.
Lory Reyes gives one of the best performances we’ve seen her deliver as the mother blithely, downright happily oblivious to any semblance of what’s actually happening. When we learn a couple of family secrets late in the evening, we see Reyes has been laying down an undercurrent all through the play that make Evelyn a figure worthy of pity as well as derision.
Francine Birns is a wonderfully Brahmin matron Aunt Ester who, upon first meeting, asks the bewildered fiancée to say the world “fellatio.” Peter Librach gives us a warm but a bit eccentric father. Isidora Miranda plays the fiancée who struggles in a losing battle with the ever-increasing madness and comes to questions her love for Avery. The veteran Fern Katz, co-founder for the Actors Community Theatre of Davie, creates a soul sister of The Golden Girls’ Sophia – if she was a foul-mouthed cantankerous basket case.
Daniel Llaca plays the tall slightly nerdy son who owns most those slow burns as he realizes that his family is not only as weird as he remembers, but worse. There’s the tiniest aura of the frenzied Cary Grant in Arsenic and Old Lace, but Llaca’s Avery is very tamped down, standing still much of the evening. A little more energy would make him a better linchpin for the plot.
This show was one of the first plays McKeever wrote, bowing in 1998 at New Theatre in Miami. Its well-crafted comedy has made it one of his most popular with 56 productions including such foreign climes as Germany, Canada, Switzerland, Poland, Austria and Idaho.
This has been a heck of a year or so for actor-designer-producer McKeever, arguably South Florida’s most prolific playwright. His Daniel’s Husband and After have both been mounted off-Broadway this past season. The former is going to Los Angeles in the few days. Another work, Mr. Parker, bowed at Island City Stage with McKeever in the lead. There’s more but we only have so much space here.
(Full disclosure: This critic served for several years as a co-host of Spotlight on the Arts interview program on BCON television with Michael McKeever.)
37 Postcards plays through May 19 at the Main Street Playhouse, 6766 Main Street, Miami Lakes. Show times are 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Running time is 1 hours 40 minutes including one intermission. Tickets $25-$30. For tickets, visit mainstreetplayers.com or call (305) 558-3737.