Have you ever felt out of place and uncomfortable? The only gringo at a quincenaera? A heart-on-your-sleeve Sicilian at Connecticut yachting regalia? To quote Joan Rivers, "Can we talk?"
ProArts production of "Social Security" by Andrew Bergman played to sold-out houses this weekend and it is a very fine, very funny production. But (cue dramatic sting), not everything in it works.
Here's what does work. When you enter the building you're instantly transported into a New York City apartment (designed by Caro Walker), ready to have an East Coast theater experience. Director Kristi Scott blocks the movement in the tiny space like comedy choreography. In many ways, the movement and placement drive the laughs.
Norman Halip and Joyce Romero (seated) cause distress for Kevin Hazelton in Chaney Cramer in “Social Security.”
Jack Grace Photography photo
Costumer Marsha Kelly has done an impeccable job at presenting the '80s, as opposed to overstating the era. Chaney Sara Cramer is well cast as Barbara Kahn, 39ish wife and art dealer. Cramer brings a confidant "Sex in the City" attitude to the show from its first lines. Equally compelling is Angela Thompson as Barbara's uptight sister, Trudy Heyman. Thompson is so convincing as a ball of nerves, New York Jewish middle-aged woman that in many ways she steals the show.
Norman Halip IS his character, Maurice Koenig, and Halip is the only actor on Maui who could play this part convincingly. Joyce Romero shines as always in the role of Barbara and Trudy's mother, Sophie Greengrass, and the show hits a full stride once Romero's character arrives.
Bergman's comedy of surprises is a slow build, tick tick tick up the roller coaster. First we are introduced to Barbara and her husband, David (Kevin Hazelton), successful, hip Manhattan art dealers living a perfectly controlled life with little to no conflict. Their regular Tuesday night is interrupted by an unexpected visit from sister and brother-in-law, Trudy and Martin Heyman (Jonathan Lehman filling in for Jonathan Yudis on the night I attended). A stressful talk is pending as the Heymans need to meet in person with Barbara and David.
The sit-down juxtaposes the dull Heymans against the hip Kahns, schvitzed with a little Jewish guilt that Trudy has to take care of their cranky mom, Sophie, and a teenage daughter, while Barbara lives the high life in Manhattan. The big news is eventually revealed that daughter Sarah Heyman is a "girl gone wild" and Bergman does not spare the graphic yet hysterical sexual details. Now she's shacked up with two men in Buffalo, Billy and Gonzalvo.
Compounding the uncomfortable conversation is Trudy and Martin's decision to rescue their daughter, thereby depositing Sophie into the care of Barbara and David for several weeks.
The second act reveals that Sophie has now ruined Barbara's perfect life, especially in a revealing scene played to perfection by Romero as Barbara prepares for a dinner party. Romero delivers one of the most fearless and LOL moments ever seen on Maui. If for no other reason, go see "Social Security" for this alone.
The Marc Chagall-like character, Maurice, the guest of honor, finds Sophie utterly charming and a romance ensues that transforms Sophie back into the woman she once was. The return of the Heymans add one last twist to Bergman's comedy roller coaster and in the end Sophie, not Barbara may be the one who truly gets life.
Where ProArts' "Social Security" jumps its roller coaster track is in the New York style that is the script. Bergman's script is back loaded: Its first act is exposition-filled, followed by a second-act punch line. This requires a cast and director to make the audience identify with and believe in the characters as well as their relationships to each other.
There are dead ends where the cast appears out of place and uncomfortable playing native Jewish New Yorkers. Yiddish slang sounds unnatural. I would have liked to have heard mashuganah come out as if they were saying lolo. New York Jewish comedy is best played with a fast clip pace. Most of the production's timing works but when it comes to a halt, that roller-coaster momentum is lost, temporarily hijacking uproarious laughter and replacing it with a medium laugh. Playing something that is not already ingrained in you is very difficult. You can't know it's not cool to take a rock from the Iao Valley unless someone tells you why.
"Social Security" is very funny and with a little more familiarity and comfort it should get more and more funny with each subsequent performance.
* "Social Security" contains some adult content. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through Sept.18 at the ProArts Playhouse in Kihei. Thursdays and Saturdays are kamaaina nights, with $15 tickets with Hawaii I.D. Regular-price tickets are $20 for adults and $15 for students 18 and younger. Call 463-6550 for tickets or more information.