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Review: Len Cariou and Craig Bierko as Bantering Father and Son in George Eastman's HARRY TOWNSEND'S LAST STAND

"We're going to bond, Alan, and that means you have to pay attention to everything I say," the title character of George Eastman's HARRY TOWNSEND'S LAST STAND informs his son a minute or so into the proceedings.

Harry Townsend's Last Stand
Len Cariou and Craig Bierko
(Photo: Maria Baranova)

The line gets a laugh because, a) it's spoken by Len Cariou, a seasoned pro adept at lifting dry subtext out of the most innocuous of sentences, and b) a seasoned theatre audience (like the folks who attend productions at New York City Center) can collectively recognize the line as a tidy summation of exactly how the next two hours will be spent.

Eastman doesn't do anything earthshakingly original with this one, which follows the expected trajectory of two-character comedies involving reunions between feisty aging parents and their more straight-laced adult children: introductory bickering, agreement to be civil, serious issue brought up and dismissed, initial blow-up, getting more relaxed with each other, secondary blow-up that gets more personal and finally mutual understanding attained by final blackout. But it's a good one, well-stocked with fine laughs and legitimately-earned sentiment.

And in director Karen Carpenter's energetic production, played on a sitcom level of elevated reality, two popular stage stars deliver sharp, enjoyable performances.

The aforementioned Harry has been living for 35 years in the charmingly rustic lakeside Vermont chalet (designer Lauren Helpern's set is nicely detailed) he shared with his late wife as they raised twins Alan (Craig Bierko) and Sarah. As a widower who gets around with a cane and denies the reality that it's getting increasingly difficult for him to live alone, Sarah has been his primary caregiver while Alan is out in California.

But Sarah's life is changing and Alan has arrived to try and convince his dad to accept residency at a full-care home, an idea Harry finds abhorrent because it will take him away from the place where he feels comforted by continually feeling his late wife's presence.

Harry adored his wife and, to be blunt, he adored having sex with his wife in non-traditional places, the revelations of some embarrass the divorced Alan, who, from what we can gather, is a bit bland in the bedroom. ("I'm from the generation that just rolls over and goes to sleep," he says of his post-coital habits.)

Harry Townsend's Last Stand
Len Cariou and Craig Bierko
(Photo: Maria Baranova)

"Romance and sex are not to be confused." Harry instructs his son. "You can be nice to someone and not expect to have anything else happen... You young guys think sex is fast food; to me it's the dessert cart after a banquet."

As played by Cariou, Harry is a vigorous soul trying to burst out of the limitations of a body that struggles to keep up, but that doesn't keep him from continually flashing wide, sunny grins.

Bierko is crisp and Cali-urbane as he alternates patience and exasperation in dealing with his dad's antics. The guy knows how to bulge his eyes with an incredulous reaction without overplaying it.

If HARRY TOWNSEND'S LAST STAND is a bit comfortably predictable, the banter between the two stars crackles and the affection the characters feel for each other is warm and genuine, making for a very enjoyable stay.

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