BWW Reviews: World Premiere Dark Comedy MISERABLE WITH AN OCEAN VIEW at the Whitefire
Miserable with an Ocean View/by Howard Skora/directed by Jim Fall/Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks/through July 18, Saturdays only
Dysfunctional families provide delicious humor for stage and film, because most everyone can identify with one or more of the characters. And if they are planning a mercy killing? The irreverent humor quadruples. In Howard Skora's new world premiere comedy Miserable with an Ocean View, we come face to face with a Jewish family on Long Island - a mother, who is wheelchair-bound and dying, two sons - one gay and one super macho straight - and one daughter, a horrible interior designer whose long-term marriage is on the rocks. Now for a limited run through July 18 at the Whitefire Theatre in Sherman Oaks, Miserable is laugh.out.loud funny with fluid direction from Jim Fall and a marvelous cast headed by Patty McCormack as grandma Rhoda.
It is humor based on character and situation - always the best kind, which does not rely too heavily on jokes for laughs. Though Skora does manage to throw quite a few laugh lines at you, like, for example, describing a room - "It's a Jew's take on what a non-Jewish design should look like" - but the humor still emanates from family and our awareness of its cultural quirks. One strong element in Miserable is the issue of being gay and how it affects central character Jeff (Paul Elia) who is obsessive about who knows it. When his sister Judy (Elizabeth Regen) asks him to come home to care for mother Rhoda (McCormack), Jeff sees the opportunity as the perfect time 'to have a moment' with her and tell her the truth. Described as a Hitler, she always hated him, or at least that's how he feels. Judy has a hard time accepting Jeff's irresponsibility in business - he has been an entrepreneur of a novel gay online-dating program and has lost all of his investments. Ray (Alex Skuby), on the other hand, is totally into fitness, self-proclaiming himself 'straight' ...and incurably homophobic, rejecting Jeff's behavior from the ground up. Both Judy and Ray are miserable, and as confused and unhappy as Jeff is, he tends to find at least momentary consolation in his 'closet' talking to his Harlequin clown doll (Drew Droege).
If you are not offended by gay language and activity - the word 'penis' does come into play quite a lot and Judy catches Jeff screwing Bobo the Clown doll, which plays out as one big hilarious scene. The blatant sexuality does indeed make for great humor, but be aware that it is here and leave the kiddies at home.
The cast is uniformly terrific within Jim Fall's sharp pacing and expert staging. Regen steals the hour as Judy. Reminding one of Rhoda Morgenstern, Valerie Harper in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, the character is outright brash in her honesty, hyper-kinetic in behavior, all the while concealing a raft of insecurities underneath. Regen is an outstanding comic actress and hits all the right notes. Elia as Jeff offers a frenetic style of playfulness much like that of Woody Allen, always trying to justify his every move and full of doubts and self-loathing. Skuby is direct and obnoxious as Ray, but offers some delightfully weak moments of sweetness where is relationship with his mother is concerned. Droege, no stranger to drag and costumes, fills out the clown Bobo with wit and flair and has some of the best off-color gay humor in the script. He also plays a serious, straight-forward therapist in Act II, which allows him to display even more versatility. McCormack as Rhoda has but a few scenes with no dialogue and only a few key words popping out now and again. But her reactions and facial expressions are priceless as she puts up with three hysterically problematic children. It's lovely to see her grace a stage once more.
With a title like Miserable with an Ocean View, how can you miss? Go see it, mainly for its very very funny dark take on four - well, five, if you count Bobo - family members as they await mother's impending death. Most can relate to the situation and certainly the people. I wonder whether Howard Skora has ever been a stand-up comic, for his openly aggressive sense of humor runs wild with his depictions of Jeff, Ray and Judy. This is a good thing, for it sustains the comedic momentum and really grabs the audience. Without the gay issue, the play would obviously not find its center and thankfully, stereotypes are kept to a minimum. But, be aware of the frank sexual language and action!
(photo credit: Jim Fall)