BWW Review: Terribly Funny DAMAGED FURNITURE Extends Through the Summer
Damaged Furniture/by Howard Skora/directed by Jim Fall/Whitefire Theatre/Saturdays at 8 pm only, through end of August
If you are Brooklyn born, Howard Skora's latest play Damaged Furniture will be an instant reminder of what it was like growing up in a loud Brooklyn family. Constantly at odds with one another and In Your Face - father and son; mother and son; aunt and nephew; sister and brother - whatever the relationship, it doesn't matter. You're street smart, so you object, shout and yell. Based partly on his own life, Damaged Furniture is about Skora's dad running a family furniture company ... and how he forbad his son to become an actor. Skora's first critically acclaimed hit Miserable with an Ocean View was about his mother, who was ill, couldn't speak, but still dominated his life. When all is said and done, it's funny stuff even if you aren't from Brooklyn, because regardless of nationality -whether Italian or Jewish, we have all encountered parental, sibling and extended family interference. It's just a helluva lot noisier around Brooklynites.
Phil (Robert Mangiardi) is Doug's (Alex Skuby) father. He is an alcoholic and fiercely opposed to Doug's silly acting career in LA. Doug returns to Brooklyn for his Uncle Max's funeral - he is told, furniture fell on him and killed him - but we soon find out that he died of a heart attack due to obscene sexual behavior that involved his Versace recliner. I will not give more of this away, as it's irreverent humor that must be appreciated live, in person. While home, Doug is first abused verbally by his Aunt Laurie (Mo Collins) and finds out that his father had a rare cancer of the eye and had to have it removed. Doug's mother Irene (Peggy Maltby Etra) attacks Doug for ignoring his father's condition and then begs him to stay as his father's cancer has spread, and he is about to die. Doug's sister Gina (Jessica Pohly), a therapist, is antagonistic toward Doug for leaving the nest, and control freak that she is, tries to manipulate his every thought and action.
The crux of the storyline is Doug's confrontation with his dad, as he tries to make him admit that he is an alcoholic and that he intentionally sliced Doug's pinky finger when he was a kid. What makes the play a big success is its blatant, over.the.top, outrageous comedy that will not quit. Skora has based the play on his father but admits in a program note that most of what we see is fiction. He claims his own father was kind and quiet; hardly the case with Phil, who drives Doug to the limit. Especially hysterical is Phil's reaction as he admits that he is proud when Doug retaliates, following his orders. Now he can drink with his son; he has found his inner peace. We are reminded through Skora's fluid dialogue between all of the family members just how important this inner sense of self really is. If we stay in our parents' lives and go a step further and work for them, we tend to settle, letting them imprison us, never allowing us the chance to fulfill our dreams. If we do venture out, they make us feel guilty. So there's a giant price to pay in balancing one's priorities.
The acting from the five member ensemble is nothing short of brilliant under Jim Fall's slick and insightful direction. Skuby plays Doug with a caring sense of loyalty and great insecurity, winning our hearts. Collins is a standout as Laurie. Her second act monologue with the recliner is an emotional and comedic knockout. Also dominating the scene is Mangiardi as Phil. He adds so much color to the portrait of a father who is impossible to live with. Etra is delightful as Irene, especially in her frustration with her children. Pohly makes sparks fly every time she enters the scene. To me her delivery and interpretation scream Jewish, but no special nationality is intended here. The family could be Italian or Jewish or any other nationality residing in Brooklyn.
Dusti Cunningham's set design is simple but very functional, and background projections by video designer Brian Levin add wonderful texture. The presence of that old, monstrous Brooklyn furniture company looms large.
Don't miss Damaged Furniture! It is terrific Saturday night entertainment. Have a drink or two, relax, laugh your socks off , but... it's your night out, so leave the kiddies at home. This material is not intended for underage minds.
(photo credit: Jim Fall)