Playwright: Lisa Dillman
At: American Theatre Company,
1909 W. Byron
Contact: 773-929-5009; $30-$35
Runs through: May 27
BY CATEY SULLIVAN
Lisa Dillman's Half of Plenty is a glass-half-full sort of entity. Awkwardly vacillating between farce, realistic drama and surreal satire, the piece ultimately elicits more shrugs than interest in a story that plays out in an ill-matched patchwork of styles.
Creative riches are squandered in this piffle, notably the talents of Stef Tovar and Cheryl Graeff who play Marty and Holly Tindall, the struggling suburbanites at the noncommittal heart of Half of Plenty. The Tindalls have recently moved to Arbor ( or maybe it was Ardor; muddy acoustics made it hard to tell opening night ) Park, a little slice of cul-de-sac heaven where multi-family zoning is strictly prohibited and the Arbor Park Neighborhood Association ( APNEA, get it? ) makes sure that Christmas decorations go up on time and with the proper amount of enthusiasm.
Marty and Holly are being slowly besieged by both encroaching middle age as well as the niggling, increasing certainty that their lives will never be anything like the lives they dreamed they'd have in their younger years. At one point, a hilarious snippet of infomercial ( 'Look at yourself in the mirror right now. Do you realize this is the youngest you'll ever look?' ) sums up the absurd yet dismal inevitability of average lives being used up unremarkable teaspoon by unremarkable teaspoon.
The Tindalls terrors are mundane, and all the more wrenching because of their ordinariness: They're worn down by the fear of layoffs, tight finances, anguish over whether the time is right to have children and, most significantly, the pressure of caring for Marty's father Jack ( John Mohrlein ) as dementia erodes his brain. Economically, socially and spiritually, the family is painted into a tiny corner, its dreams and hopes becoming from reach each day.
Tovar and Graeff are depressingly effective at portraying a couple mired in quiet mediocrity. They also find the fathoms of humor in the fact that there really are no sensible answers to life's big, what's-it-all-about quandaries—only absurd, daily variations on the question.
Marty works at a box factory. Holly is a medical transcriptionist, typing reports from a doctor whose own mid-life yearnings and disappointments seep through in his flat, resigned dictation. ( Jim Leaming imbues lines like 'Nothing a topical steroid and a multi-dose of Xanex won't fix' with hilarious to-be-or-not-to-be despair. )
The Tindalls creeping existential angst is the story that should be the heart of Half of Plenty but, alas, Dillman introduces the Zooks. The APNEA-upholding neighbors are a cartoon-deep mix of Stepford smiles and xenophobic fascism. Their appearance signals the end of a story we can believe in, and the onset of a dreary preposterousness so heavy-handed it smashes the truth that lies in the tale of Marty and Holly. Half of Plenty would be fuller and richer without them.