Review: Danner and Parker Lift THE COMMONS OF PENSACOLA Above Its Slight Dramatics
It takes a skilled actor to make a character's bouts with flatulence come off as an endearing symbol of vulnerability instead of, well, a running fart joke. Fortunately, for viewers of Amanda Peet's The Commons of Pensacola, Blythe Danner is a skilled actor.And the strong mother/daughter chemistry between her and Sarah Jessica Parker (who smacks Peet's sitcomy gag lines out of the park) lifts the slight drama into an entertaining vehicle for its stars to maneuver, under director Lynne Meadow's straightforward guidance, into being an enjoyable enough evening.
Danner's Judith is the wife of a convicted scam artist whose headline-making scheme made national headlines, ruined innocent lives and provoked public questioning of how much she knew. Stripped of her wealth, she's now living in a furnished retirement condo in Pensacola, Florida; decent digs for sure, but a giant leap down from her previous 1% lifestyle. Losing the capability to take care of herself, her tough, motherly caregiver, Lorena (excellent Nilaja Sun), makes sure her complicated mixes of medications are taken at the correct times.Her daughter Becca (Parker) has it even worse. Her career as an actress has plummeted and lately she's been living out of her car and getting by financially by babysitting for her agent. Her other daughter, Ali (Ali Marsh), has cut off communication with her altogether.
Becca arrives for Thanksgiving with her much younger new boyfriend, Gabe (Michael Stahl-David), a guerilla journalist whose attraction to the struggling actress may not be entirely romantic.
The arrival of Ali's cute and perky daughter, Lizzy (Zoe Levin), reminds Becca that, at 43, she's no longer the young and hip babe she once was and eventually Ali herself enters the picture, convinced that Judith is hiding something.
It's all bubblegum family drama, but Danner does a great job letting us empathize with Judith's weary desire to just live out the rest of her years unnoticed and Parker counters beautifully with Lizzy's battered determination to rise again. When the two of them clash at the end, you might be tricked into believing the play has some real depth.