Mom and dad and sis. And me.

Cedarwood Avenue

By Mike Teele
Directed by Sue Lawless
Vital Theatre Company
432 West 42nd St. (212/592-0129)
Equity showcase (closes May 23)
Review by David Mackler

A story that purports to be about a protagonist's family is never about the family. But in Mike Teele's Cedarwood Avenue, our hero, played by Brian Munn (who is referred to on stage as Michael but listed in the program as Brother/Son), isn't the most interesting guy you'll ever meet. The play is sort of about his coming-out process, but it's more like the old Reader's Digest column "My Most Unforgettable Character." Three characters, actually, with Act One dedicated to his relationship with his sister, Act Two about him and his parents. The tone is quite different in the two acts, and there's a lot of good stuff in there. It just doesn't add up to one whole.

Some things are taken for granted between a brother and sister, like the double-edged nicknames they give each other as kids that stick as adults. So when she calls him Scissors and he calls her Peanut Butter, as kids it means one thing and as adults something quite different. But the rapport between Munn and Stacy Melich had exactly the right amounts of caring, bitterness, resentment, and love. Melich was so good, so vibrant and alive, that right from the beginning she took over their relationship and the play. Brother can describe their relationship in narration, but from the moment Sister calls out (as she is reported to have done) to her mother, who is about to go to the hospital to give birth, "If they only have boys bring home a cat!" it is clear this is a force to be reckoned with. She leads, but needs an audience; he follows, but needs the example. Abortion, pregnancy, marriage, funerals, Catholic school, rebellion -- Brother's problems, real as they are, don't have the same vibrancy. When illness comes to visit, Terms of Endearment is invoked (well, it could hardly have been ignored), but Melich is mother, daughter, sister, and brother. Teele has done well by the character, structuring Act One to give Sister her messy life, and her moment in the sun.

Act Two is a horse of a different color, different in tone, style, and subject. Brother is now Son, and has come out to his parents. Not only do they not disapprove, they have every intention of being there for him whether he wants it or not. This overcompensation is played for comedy, and Ellen Barry and Robert Sonderskov are loony enough for it to be fun, and straight enough for it not to be impossible. Here it's On Golden Pond that's invoked, as if it had starred Diane Keaton and Walter Matthau. Hoary old jokes and misunderstandings are trotted out ("sex on the beach" anyone?), and dad telling a bunch of leather men about "my boy." Son doesn't relax into this at all -- he's something of a prig about it actually -- but Mother and Father don't notice. Almost incidentally it comes out that what happened to their daughter brought them to a major acceptance of their son. Good for them.

Stephen Sakowski's lighting gave the mostly bare stage (design by SherryAnn Danna) substance and depth, and Sead Perezic's sound design of music and casual sound effects (good touches at the pool table) helped set the play in the world. Director Sue Lawless kept it all moving quickly, and got those good performances out of her cast. But after the dynamic impression she made in Act One, Melich's Sister was missed in Act Two. Thankfully she stuck around for a curtain call.

Box Score:

Writing: 1
Directing: 2
Acting: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 2

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Copyright 2004 David Mackler