Shows targeted toward people over a certain age are not always easy to find. Whenever there is a new production focusing on senior citizens, one can’t help but hope that they are treated with dignity and respect. The problem with Sunset Park is not the person at the center of the plot, but the superficial way that the plot is told.
Sunset Park tells the story of an elderly Jewish Brooklyn widow, Evelyn (Carm Greco), who spends most of her days home alone in her apartment. Her only friend is a woman around her age, Rose (Connie Terwilliger), who lives in her building. Evelyn also has dysfunctional relationships with her sharp-tongued, divorced, daughter, Carol (Brenda Adelman), and her self-absorbed and somewhat vain son, Roger (Charles Peters). Their already strained kinships are potentially weakened even further after Evelyn overhears a private conversation between Roger and Carol regarding Evelyn’s future.
Playwrights Elliot Shoenman and Marley Sims (who attended opening night at Legler Benbough Theatre at Alliant International University) have written more than 20 episodes of “Home Improvement” together. It makes sense that they both wrote for television because Sunset Park feels like watching an extended installment of a sitcom, instead of a play. Practically every joke has a “badabing” quality to the dialogue and the simple structure of the story feels more suitable for the small screen. This would not be an issue for a 22-minute episode or a 44-minute two-partner, but the narrative wears out its welcome when performed on the stage for close to two hours.
Director, Eric Poppick, presents the tale in a way that seemed to appeal to the mainly aging viewers who are the primary demographic for the evening. He appears to be just as invested in Rose’s connections with other people as he is with handling the broad comedic one-liners.
The cast tries to inject as much life as they can into their emotionally thin characters. Though Greco occasionally flubbed her lines during the first performance, she accurately depicts a matriarch who is equally gruff and vulnerable.
Adelman and Peters have some touching moments together, especially as theatregoers learn more about Carol and Roger’s past. They make the most of the material that is given to them.
Andy Scrimger’s set and Kristin McReddie’s costumes is authentic to the New York City borough. The majority of Sunset Park takes place in the present, but the visuals have an enjoyably retro quality.
Act II has an extended sequence that is actually dramatically riveting. As Evelyn reflects upon the past, she thinks about her younger self (Kristin Woodburn) as well as her late husband, Benny (David Ryan Gutierrez). During one of her flashbacks, featuring hypnotic lighting from Michael Barahura, Evelyn remembers a disturbing incident involving Benny’s father, Abe (Haig Koshkarian).
It is hard to not feel sorry for Evelyn, especially when she explains to her children in the present the parallels and ramifications from her experiences with Abe. If Sunset Park had more serious exchanges, the tale could have been a lot stronger and more profoundly meaningful. However, Sims’ and Shoenman’s writing soon reverts back to easy and obvious jokes to the very end.
Sunset Park does not have the substance or depth that the comedy-drama could have had, though the staging will likely satisfy the general target audience. Perhaps, Scripps Ranch Theatre can continue to produce theatrical works that are geared towards the young at heart and inject more heart into them.