BWW Review: Greenway Court Has FRONT DOOR OPEN
Front Door Open/by Tom Baum/directed by Asaad Kelada/Greenway Court Theatrey/through December 13
As art imitates life, dysfunctional family make up the majority of characters onstage nowadays. Life crises consistently prove that no one is perfect. Thank heavens! If they were, there'd be no conflicts, and in the theatre, no drama. In Tom Baum's new world premiere play Front Door Open, the matriarch of the dysfunctional brood (Joanna Miles) is suffering from agoraphobia, The disease strikes 1 in 50 Americans, whereby its victims do not leave the house. Due to deep, inexplicable emotional issues, they lock themselves in. Now at the Greenway Court Theatre in Hollywood, Front Door Open boasts a superb four person cast headed by pros Miles and David Selby and helmed by prolific television director Asaad Kelada. As absorbing as the play may be, it is not without its flaws, however. In many ways, the relationships may remind you of On Golden Pond, but it is not nearly as well-honed or humorous.
First, let's check the storyline. Douglas (David Selby), a reliable east coast surgeon and his wife Eleanor (Miles) put on their masks and play games with each other. They go along day to day, ignoring the gravity of their deteriorating relationship, feigning contentment. Their relationship is based on need. She is on medications and shut in, relying totally on him; he is her caregiver, a relentless watch dog. In short, misery is the name of the game. Into this mess walks daughter Gretchen (Anna Nicholas) and her teenage daughter Thalia (Lizzy Rich). Gretchen, a therapist on the west coast, has lost her job and is on the verge of divorcing her screenwriter husband Larry. Due to financial insecurity, she has also lost her California home. Gretchen never really got along with her parents, and they haven't seen Thalia since she was a tot, so neither are particularly welcome guests. They all become concerned with Eleanor's irrational behavior, but she insists that it is not alzheimer's and pushes her independence to the limit.
This is only the second play about agoraphobia that I have encountered. The first was Carey Crim's Wake, whose victim was much younger than Eleanor. It is interesting to note that the disease affects people at any age, but obviously, as in Eleanor's case, it gives us a more horrifying glimpse of the issues of growing old.
The major problem with the play is that it takes an hour to get off the ground. Each of the characters possesses a secret about the past but we do not get even a hint or glimmer of hope until the last half hour, when Eleanor finally forces herself out of the house and takes a long walk into town. This is undoubtedly a small New England town. There are decaying birch trees in the back yard and Eleanor walks to a store named Kroegers and returns wearing a pretty new straw hat, whilst everyone is frantically trying to locate her. It would be nice if Baum set the scene for us but he does not. There is some wonderfully naturalistic dialogue, great moments of humor, as when Eleanor puts a flower in her hair and proceeds to dance around in a flirtatious way while watching TV, but that's it. The humor and playfulness end there. What remains for all four characters is heavy and heavier 'til final curtain. I won't spoil the ending, but I did like its unpredictability and optimism. Also refreshing is how Baum gets the three generations to deal adequately with one another, showing that regardless when love is at the core of family, life goes on.
Under Kelada's finely paced direction, the ensemble give terrific performances. Miles is so real from moment to moment as Eleanor that she could be reading the phone book and you would believe her every word. A superior actress! I have never seen David Selby better in his emotional interpretation of the frustrated husband Douglas, loving his wife but at a crossroads as to how to continue. Douglas's old-fashioned reactions to Thalia's tattoos and her flagrant cursing may seem old hat by now, but Selby makes them vibrate, giving them renewed life. Nicholas and Rich are both excellent. Nicholas has the most complicated character and she does her best to wade through the confusion, but Baum needs to clarify her past a bit more and enhance the father/daughter conflict. As is, much of her life, especially with Larry, is vague.
Tom Meleck's set design of the rather cold living room is functional and sound design by Joseph "Sloe" Slawinski is overall good, but the dog barking and growling in the kitchen sounds artificial and should be improved.
Go see Front Door Open at the Greenway Court through December 13! You may not learn anything new about the problems of growing old but you will be thoroughly moved by the stellar work of Joanna Miles and David Selby.
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)