When a new play’s biggest problem is that it offers too much to think about, you know it has a promising future.
Actually, “Tell Me I’m Not Crazy,” which is being given its world premiere at the smaller Nikos Theatre of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, is a good night of theater right now. And with some judicious editing it’s going to get even better.
The play, which continues through August 3, is laugh-out-loud funny as it addresses every modern concern - with the possible exception of gender identity.
But, actually, the play spends a lot of time on the changing roles of straight male and females in today’s society.
The four-character play features a couple in their 60’s dealing with a world that is changing so fast it becomes threatening.
Indeed, some of the threats are very real. There has been a home invasion of a neighbor that was so dangerous Sol bought a gun for protection.
This starts off a chain of reactions from his wife, son and daughter-in-law. They see this as an overreaction and they argue that a man who staples his thumb to a wall is not fit to own a firearm.
His son Nate and his wife, Alisa, are the model of a modern couple. He is a house-husband who stays at home to care for their two young children. She is an ambitious and talented woman who, in order to advance her career, must make choices that force her to neglect her family.
In between the laughs, playwright Sharyn Rothstein, tosses in issues of latent racism, vigilantism, forced retirement, suggestions of male insecurities manifesting itself by an absence of sexual desire and the general ills of living in a dog-eat-dog capitalist society.
There are in-law problems and the young parents are dealing with one child probably being autistic. All of these problems are accentuated by the failed dreams of every character.
There is also a problem with a huge stack of unfolded laundry that won’t go away. But that’s a director’s poor choice, not a playwriting issue.
Clearly the play tries to cover a lot of territory in two hours and 10 minutes without an intermission. Fortunately, though the play has issue-overload problems, the work never becomes preachy or heavy-handed. A lot of this has to do with a terrific cast that creates honest, sincere characters.
Mark Blum as the older father Sol, and Jane Kaczmarek as his wife Diana, are an argumentative couple, but they rarely rant and never lose control of their characters. They are also wonderfully comic.
Mark Feuerstein captures the passive nature of Nate, without ever making the young father -who gave up on his dreams - seem like a loser. Nicole Villamil is a conflicted Alisa who realizes her success comes at a cost.
“Tell Me I’m Not Crazy” involves people who exist in a world that is changing quickly and dramatically. It is sometimes threatening and often dangerous. It’s an environment that fosters uncertainty of the present and fear for the future.
Why wouldn’t people seem crazy?
They often do. But playwright Rothstein is an optimist who sees insanity as a temporary situation. She believes love conquers fear and communication can neutralize odd behavior. That brings a needed sweetness to the proceedings.
“Tell Me I’m Not Crazy” is a crowded work. It’s also a funny play with a positive point of view.
It continues at the Nikos Theatre of the Williamstown Theatre Festival through August 3. For tickets and schedule information call 413-458-3253 or go to wtfestival.org
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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