Review By Sandi Durell
The great escape or, perhaps, fooling everyone might offer up a good subtitle to Jesse Eisenberg’s latest dramedy presented by The New Group that features an outstanding cast of actors who take on the roles.
Meet the smiling narcissist Lorraine, lusciously played by film and TV star Susan Sarandon (last seen on Broadway in 2009 – Exit the King) caught in her own vice living with an invalid mother and husband Bill (a deadpan Daniel Oreskes) who keeps his head buried in his Civil War books and barely utters a word. He is suffering from MS and depression while Lorraine has a case of unbridled diarrhea of the mouth.
In their home lives their illegal Serbian caretaker Ljuba (the always reliable Marin Ireland) who also smiles a lot, cracks a lot of jokes and comes off as a good natured person. She is in charge because Lorraine likes it that way not wanting the responsibility of changing her mother’s diapers (we don’t see the old lady who is represented by a continuous buzzing come – hither sound from the bedroom). As we later find out, growing up with her was hell on wheels. Lorraine and Ljuba’s relationship has grown from more than employer/employee into a friendship. As for her marriage, well, that would take up a lot more time to explain if the playwright wanted to take on the journey.
Living somewhere in the burbs of New Jersey, Lorraine features herself a great actress having currently taken on the role of Bloody Mary in the local JCC production of South Pacific. This is her great escape as the line between her stage role and life doesn’t seem to have a beginning or end. She’s always on . . . living in her fantasy the lines blur until she is occasionally shaken into her real world which she has learned to deny. Her ego needs constant stroking from anyone who will take on the job. We all know someone like this.
When Ljuba reveals that she has saved $15,000 (stuffed in her mattress) to pay towards a marriage to a U.S. citizen so she can get her Green card (apparently the going rate is $30K if she marries a Serbian who is a US citizen), so she can bring her daughter to the States, Lorraine jumps in with a plan to help, arranging a meeting with very gay actor friend Ronny (a funny Nico Santos) who plays Lt. Cable in the current production of South Pacific. Ronny is game and hits it off with Ljuba while Lorraine tries desperately to control the evolution of their relationship so it looks legitimate by creating a photo log. But as the connection between Ronny and Ljuba grows, they don’t feel the need to include Lorraine at their side every moment which begins to create a negative impact for Lorraine – something her ego cannot deal with. But the impending realization that Lorraine begins to perceive has even greater implications.
Enter Lorraine’s long lost daughter Jenny (a bitingly brutal Tedra Millan) who sneaks into the house to say goodbye to her grandmother (for whom she has no great love) before she leaves with her new husband to move to Costa Rica. Her hatred for Lorraine knows no bounds unlike her soft loving behavior toward her father. Things get a little out of control as angers flair. The comedy comes to a dead halt as we move into new territory.
Bottom line is there’s an unexpected twist and I won’t give that away because it’s a clever writing technique by Eisenberg similar to reactions many had to Michael McKeever’s in Daniel’s Husband.
Sarandon takes on this juicy role giving it all the exquisite touches it deserves as does Ireland who both compete for the laughs. Sometimes the comedy lands as it should and other times it stings and gets in the way. But, alas, as good as the cast is, you leave feeling unfulfilled knowing that something is missing.
Scott Elliott directs this uniformly well-chosen cast who move about in Derek McLane’s suburban kitchen and living room lit by Jeff Croiter.
Photos: Monique Carboni
Happy Talk by The New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center (Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre) 480 West 42 Street, NYC – 1 hr. 45 min (no intermission)