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An Act of Love
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"Do you really want to be a great actress or do you just want to be on TV?" snarls Peter Sandusky to his sardonic glamorous Mother (Susan Sullivan), who gets cast in the role of her life when Peter offers her $1,000 to play the loving mother for a day to himself and his sister Julia (Hedy Burress).
Although Peter is an insurance executive who says he likes his job, he’s been in countless therapies and was dumped by his bride of three months. Though functional, he’s as wounded as his sister, who’s ragged clothes and multiple "issues," as Mother likes to euphemistically put it, complicated by a brand new pregnancy, put her right on the edge.
In a heart-stopping turn by Sullivan, Mother speaks a eulogy to Peter of her devotion to the boy she calls her hero. It’s so intense that he believes it, as we certainly do. But Landsberg doesn’t let us wallow in it, when Mother takes her bow and gracefully thanks her audience who by now include Vanoush (Jay Harik), her taxi driver, and the mysterious Maureen (Beth Kennedy), Peter’s first date in many months. Since she’s a blind date arranged by a colleague, he was prepared for mystery but he didn’t expect Maureen to show up in full burka. She declares she’s not a Muslim but wants to be appreciated for herself. This may be the greatest of Landsberg’s visual sight gags and Kennedy’s use of the swirling costume is marvelous, though there are a few too many manipulative jokes as she tries to find her hands and drink a glass of wine.
Peter bribes Mother to play loving with Julia and again the theater works its customary magic. Although we don’t need Peter’s underlining to remind us that acting comes from within, the concept gives a solid underpinning to a play that never forgets it’s a comedy.
It would be nice if Vanoush’s character would lose the Armenian jokes, too reminiscent of the Polish jokes that demeaned a previous generation. Vanoush and Julia’s African-American boyfriend Darwin (Lovensky Jean-Baptiste) add astringent grace notes to this fractured family. Hedy Burress grows into her role as the annoying but pathetic Julia. But the play belongs to Timothy Hornor, whose malleable features and anxious vulnerability predict a Jack Lemmon-like comic career and, especially to Susan Sullivan, whose flair for comedy never dissipates her innate elegance. She paces the stage like a colorful jaguar before launching one of the poisonous darts that can stick in a child’s hide forever and then delivering the kind of elegy every kid wishes his mother would give. In the role she ‘s created, it makes her almost an impossible act to follow.
The playwright gives the play a final curtain that leaves the audience moaning with frustrated laughter. Casey Stangl’s direction slyly catches the spirit of David Landsberg’s play, one of the funniest, most perceptive family stories we’ve had the good fortune to premiere here. Endorsing the Falcon’s customarily excellent production values are Keith Mitchell’s warm-hued living room set, Nick McCord’s subtle lighting and, especially, Kathy Kann’s astute and colorful costumes.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide