***½ out of four
What’s wrong with this picture? It’s the deck of a beautiful beach-front Nantucket mansion, furnished in impeccable style with white Adirondack chairs and nautical cushions. The fully stocked bar is set off to the side, in the shade of the house.
Richard Moscow (Bob Rogerson) and his wife, Ellen (Susan Rome), are sitting side by side enjoying the fresh air. He’s distinguished-looking with well-cut silver hair and Nantucket-red slacks—a color that in any other location would be called pink and eschewed by most men. She has a neat silver bob and the kind of casual clothes that are anything but.
But as soon as the Moscows start speaking, the perfect picture changes. They’re clearly affluent and assimilated, but they have enough Jewish angst for Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, and Larry David combined. Richard is more attached to his BlackBerry than his wife or two sons—both of whom are visiting for a week of family “togetherness.” Ellen has a stress coach and a mother lion’s protective instincts toward her younger son, Benjie (James Flanagan), an unemployed writer who drinks too much and lives in his parents’ basement. Older brother Michael (Michael Glenn) is a divorced and wildly successful TV-sitcom producer. He has arrived from Hollywood with his toddler son, a nanny, and Virginia Christiansen (Heather Haney), the star of his hit show and soon-to-be the next Mrs. Moscow.
If ever there was a catfish swimming in a sea of gefilte, it is Virginia, whose trailer-park roots and uninhibited frankness are daggers to a Jewish mother’s heart. Her arrival lays open the wounds of a family already suffering from years of distrust and miscommunication.
Their pain is rich comedic fodder for playwright Sam Forman. The one-liners fly as the clueless parents try to connect with their distant kids and Virginia tries to understand this strange brood.
This is an ensemble piece and the actors are well-matched—particularly Rogerson and Rome as the well-meaning parents. Flanagan manages to be appealing as he bemoans his fate as a loser at love and life. And stand-out Haney plays her Southern white-trash part with hilarious elan. She knows who she is and loves every lard-fried inch of it.
Happy families rarely inspire writers. Happily for us, the Moscows don't fall into that category. Long may they agonize.