“What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, I don’t know when I’ve laughed so much.” That is a comment overheard as we exited the Bickford theatre in Morristown Sunday afternoon. The event was the matinee performance of a very funny comedy, Social Security. The title gives you more than a hint that this is a play that will connect with the over-50 crowd, and it does bigtime. Not familiar with Social Security… the play of course? It is the work of Andrew Bergman that premiered on Broadway back in 1986 directed by the late Mike Nichols. It ran for more than a year. Bergman? Andrew Bergman? Did you see the films: Blazing Saddles, The In-Laws, The Freshman and Honeymoon in Vegas? They each have become cult classics. The writer (or co-writer) of all four is not Neil Simon or Mel Brooks, but Andrew Bergman, a boy from Queens (now 69). Social Security is his one and only stage effort.
The Bickford edition of the play is directed by Eric Hafen, artistic director of the theatre based in the Morris Museum, and features a cast of five of the very finest pro and non-pro actors working in northern New Jersey. The professional cast members (i.e. Equity members) are Scott McGowan (Bickford credits- I Do! I Do!, Mack & Mabel, and Sherlock Holmes-Knight’s Gambit). Scott is also a member of the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company in Summit; Laura Ekstrand (Artistic Director of Dreamcatcher Repertory Theatre) and Bev Sheehan (Bickford credit- The Last Days of Mickie & Jean). The non-Equity cast members are David C. Neal, Noreen Farley (Bickford credits: The Last Romance). Noreen is also a member of the Dreamcatcher Repertory Company; and Jim Clancy (Summit Players, Chatham Players, and Theater Project).
Social Security presents a bit of a dilemma for a reviewer since it is loaded with rapid fire funny dialogue, hilarious situations and several plot surprises. How much to reveal here without spoiling an otherwise delightful theater experience? To some the play might seem creaky, with unfamiliar references to New York of that period since it is set in early 1980’s. But those of us with memories that go back a few decades will enjoy the mention of famous Manhattan restaurants, theater and film attractions and celebrities. For example, how many in the under-40 group even remember Elizabeth Taylor?
The play is entirely set in a swank Upper East-Side apartment (impressive set by Bill Motyka) decorated with the finest in modern art. Appropriate since the apartment belongs to David and Barbara Kahn, modern art dealers. The Kahn’s, played with nice style by Scott McGowan and Laura Ekstrand, live in blissful isolation from Mrs. Kahn’s rather colorless but yet bizarre suburban relatives (Mineola, Long Island). First, there is sister Trudie Heyman (Bev Sheehan), then tax accountant husband Martin Heyman (David C. Neal),and finally Barbara and Trudie’s impossible Jewish mother Sophie (Noreen Farley).
The entire first act concerns the Heyman’s demand that it is now the Kahn’s turn to share their home with “the creature from hell.” The word consternation does not adequately describe their response. Hysteria, actually horrific hysteria is more on target. Further shocking to David and Barbara; the Heyman’s are not suggesting next week or next month…but now! Guess who is downstairs waiting in the car? It all gets more complicated when Trudie and Martin reveal that they are leaving for Buffalo that evening to confront their college freshman daughter who has adopted a bizarre lifestyle, or has she? The remaining character is a famous modern artist (Jim Clancy) who comes to dinner. Any more details could ruin your enjoyment of this comedy romp.
In other hands this might simply be a satisfactory production, but director Hafen earns a special bow for sharp direction, pacing and spot-on casting lifting Social Security to pure first rate entertainment. Scott McGowan as David Kahn again shows that he is a fine versatile actor. As does Laura Ekstrand as his wife Barbara. Laura is an impressive, intelligent actress and particularly attractive in just a simple bathrobe, red silk pajamas or a knock-out red topped cocktail outfit (kudos to costume designer Fran Harrison).
Bev Sheehan beautifully nails the dreary sister, as does David C. Neal as the nebbish brother-in-law. Jim Clancy does a fine turn as the aged artist. Then there is Noreen Farley…the “queen” of the senior actresses (she’s actually younger than most of her characters). In our experience, Noreen makes every play special.
Kudos also to the creative team: Set Designer: William Motyka; Costume Designer: Fran Harrison; Lighting Designer: Roman Klima; Properties Designer: Danielle Pietrowski; Production Stage Manager: Yumi Matsuura.
We give the final word to director Eric Hafen: “This Broadway hit comedy will leave you smiling a little, laughing a lot, and going home feeling happier than when you came in” We could not agree more. Hurry…ticket info is below.
Reviewed by Rick Busciglio November 23, 2014
Social Security is playing until December 7, 2014. The location: The Bickford Theatre, an integral part of the Morris Museum, 6 Normandy Heights Ave., Morristown, New Jersey.
TICKETS: $45 General Public; $40 Seniors, Museum & Theatre Guild Members; $33 Groups (10+); $20 Students (under 18 or w/valid college ID). Tickets may be purchased by phone at (973) 971-3706, or in person at the Bickford Theatre Box Office. There is free parking and full accessibility.
Box Office hours for phone sales are Monday through Friday, 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Walk-up hours are Tuesday through Friday, 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM.