August 11, 2005
Peterborough Players’ Solidarity is solid gold
comedy a modern take on the American family and the rise and fall of one
Players’ current production is the debut of the new Gus Kaikkonen play
Solidarity. The show is a sardonic yet tender look at the distance
between the generations of one American family. It opened Aug. 3 and
runs through Aug. 14.
Kaikkonen said in his
artistic statement that he wrote a majority of this play during a
fellowship in which he stayed in writer James Thurber’s old house.
Thurber’s ghost must have had an influence, because Kaikkonen has
employed a similar biting wit, a nearly identical ability to describe
the frustrations of the struggling man in a modern world. It’s the
desire to make some sort of connection — any connection at all — that
lies at the heart of Solidarity.
The play begins in the
fabulous New York apartment of up-and-comer Ted O’Leary. Though Ted is
the son of working-class parents from Scranton, he fancies himself as a
Gordon Gekko-type business consultant, preying on companies that need to
compete with overseas businesses by downsizing their employees and
cooking their books.
On this particular
evening, Ted is hosting a 50th anniversary party for his parents, Delta
and Hoy, intent on showing off what a big shot he has become. The only
family members in attendance are Ted’s charming but unhinged wife,
Phyllis, his bratty daughter Hannah, his struggling actor brother,
Frank, and Phyllis’s cousin Grover. Everyone else at the party is a
politician or corporate bigwig. Ted’s elderly parents decide to camp out
in the master bedroom, where coats are piled up and other family members
make scattered appearances.
Through a comic
succession of lightning-fast appearances in the bedroom, we learn the
following: Cousin Grover loves to tell longwinded, meaningless stories;
Ted’s father is disappointed in both of his sons’ lines of work; Phyllis
is about to be committed, and Ted is a cheater in addition to his many
other personality flaws. The scene ends with poor Hoy having a stroke,
buried under a sea of coats.
Fast forward to four
months later. After a business deal goes wrong, Ted has lost his
business, his wife and his fortune. He has shacked up with his mistress
in a trailer park in New Jersey. Ted has also moved his two children and
his parents into the trailer — the “den of Hell,” as his mother calls it
— while Hoy recovers from his stroke. It’s a far cry from Ted’s salad
days living the high life in Manhattan, and to make matters worse, Ted’s
new government job has sent him to the far reaches of Kazakhstan, while
his parents linger on in the trailer, watching bad television and
growing increasingly confused.
Cousin Grover, an
Episcopalian minister, has somehow landed a county job as the most
clueless social worker ever, and calls on Delta and Hoy by coincidence,
on the very day that Frank, who is now a soap opera star, and Ted, on a
much-needed break from his futile consulting work in eastern Europe,
return home. Grover just happens to have Phyllis with him on a day pass
from the “looney bin,” thus reuniting this fractured little family.
After some mistaken identities, some harsh words and some truth-telling
by all parties, the family finds its way back together — but not without
some sarcastic remarks and a few tears.
This is the sort of
play that could have easily regressed into sitcom-like stereotypes: the
rich bastard, his depressed, pill-popping wife, his conservative,
disapproving parents, his rebellious, smart-talking teen-aged daughter
and his squeaky-clean younger brother. But Kaikkonen’s tart dialog and
commitment to these slightly askew but totally believable characters
keeps the material elevated to more of a modern-day Noel Coward satire.
These people have been through the best and the worst of life and manage
to pick up the pieces and keep going. Playwright Kaikkonen also directs
the show, which can sometimes be a dangerous venture, but for this play,
include Matt Sarles as Ted, the flawed but still salvageable eldest son.
Sarles is very comfortable on stage and brings the character from a
snarling, unscrupulous big shot to a humbled, introspective family man.
Kraig Swartz as Frank, Ted’s younger brother, exudes a warm likeability
in his performance. He has a look and energy that would transfer well to
film and TV roles. And Michael Page as Cousin Grover does some fine work
as the show’s hapless straight man.
It is the play’s two
senior stars who steal the show, however. Warren Hammack as Hoy, Ted’s
father, and Carmen Decker as Delta, his mother, have the best
one-liners, the best physical bits of comedy, and the most fun of all
the show’s characters, and the audiences fell in love with them. Decker,
in particular, has great comic timing and had the audience wrapped
around her finger from her very first line.
Solidarity is a funny,
moving satire that will give you plenty to think about after the show.
It’s worth the drive west on Route 101 to take in these outstanding
performances of a new play.