Bob Goepfert Reviews Theater Barn's Production Of "Half And Half"
New Lebanon - If all it took to write an enjoyable play was a good premise “Half and Half” would be a terrific piece of theater.
Sadly for Theater Barn in New Lebanon where the three-person play is ending their 2014 season, it takes wit, drama and intelligence to make a thought-provoking idea – well, thought-provoking. None of those positive qualities exist in “Half and Half.”
The concept in “Half in Half” is to show couples in a domestic situation in the same kitchen 35 years apart. Act one is set in 1970 and the audience sees a male-dominated household with the wife beginning to have her consciousness raised by reading the writings of Betty Friedan and participating in communal events like the first Earth Day.
Playwright James Sherman places the second act in 2005, reverses roles and has the mother become the family provider and has the husband the stay-at-home parent.
Both sets of parents are played by the same actors and each have a teenage daughter, also played by the same actress. Especially intriguing is the idea that the powerful materialistic wife in the second section is the now grown-up adolescent daughter we met in the first act.
The play has the potential to make some social commentary about the relationship between the sexes and show how power is determined by income. By having the daughter take after her controlling father more that her independent mother is an idea rich with potential.
It’s not to be. “Half and Half” panders more than it provokes and bores more than it stimulates. The only conversation it encourages is on leaving the theater you will likely wonder why a family would leave a kitchen window boarded up for 35 years. The answer is to manipulate the emotions of the audience by letting feel-good light flow upon the family at the mawkish ending.
There’s a lot of manipulation going on in the entire show, which is essentially two one act plays strung together. In the first, Sherman shows the depreciation of women during the 60s and 70s by creating a rigid husband who is oafish, chauvinistic and rather stupid. In this work Stewart Grant is a petty bureaucrat who is an insufferable tyrant in his own home.
In the second act we meet docile and patient Jeremy, who is married to Lucy, an ambitious corporate lawyer. Jeremy is a nurturer whose role in life is to be subservient to his over-achiever wife and drive their daughter to soccer practice.
To show how things change without really changing repressed Susan makes sunny side eggs for the family and cracks the yolks infuriating Stewart, which gets them thrown in the garbage. In the new millennium, the oppressed Jeremy makes frittatas, which headstrong Lucy ruins by over-salting.
Other than that, things pretty much stay the same. The play makes it clear that the income producer always controls the flow of the house. The domestic partner must deal with being ignored and do their best to teach the daughter the worth of the path less traveled in the Robert Frost poem “The Road Not Taken.”
It’s difficult to fault the actors for not creating characters with more dimension than is offered in the script. However, they add little to proceedings by creating standardized people which gives them the appearance of being caricatures rather than portraying the victims the play demands.
In their defense, the actors get little guidance from their director Phil Rice who shows little imagination in his staging and fails to add some humor which might make palatable some of the more ponderous moments.
The set is as dull as the material and neither it nor costumes set a period that is so critical to understanding and supporting the mood of each act.
“Half and Half” continues through September 21. For this show the road less travelled should be Route 20 heading towards New Lebanon.
“Half and Half” at Theatre Barn, Route 20, New Lebanon. Fridays-Sundays until Sept. 21. 794-8989
Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.
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