by: JK Clarke
If you didn’t already know Sheldon Bull is the author of a guide to writing sitcoms, and has even written and produced episodes of some legendary television comedies (M*A*S*H, Newhart, Coach), it wouldn’t take you more than a few minutes into the first scene of his new play, Mallorca ( now in World Premiere at the Abingdon Theater on West 36th Street), before you figured it out. Mallorca is punctuated by gags—like one character’s repeated attempt at opening a bag of chips and groaning about how, even though it says “tear here” you can never open the bag there . . . then it being easily opened by the next guy who has it—that are groan-worthy bits primed for a laugh-track. Fortunately, it’s also much more than that.
With ardent direction by Donald Brenner, Mallorca is the story of four friends, chums really . . . okay, not chums, they would argue, but three guys who have one “friend,” Julius, in common. Julius (Rory Scholl) is a sad sack who can’t get over relationships and spends his days calling and whining to these friends (unbeknownst to each other). Julius has invited the three friends to a Knicks basketball game, but without telling them that the others are going. And he asks them to all meet at Stan’s apartment (L. J. Ganser, with a Jack Lemmon vibe). What he’s actually doing is gathering them to let them know he’s leaving the country to go stay in Mallorca, which they all ultimately recognize as a thinly veiled suicidal farewell. But in a series of personal realizations borne of bickering, each seemingly self-sufficient and detached “chum” realizes his own dependence upon friendship, particularly Julius’s. While the initial thing these three middle-aged men have in common is their need to find a place to urinate—a detail that gets hammered home again and again (in the spirit of hack, you might even think the playwright would want acknowledgement that the play is “a real pisser”)—they come to find out they also share emotional vulnerabilities.
All the men, despite their stoic (and misleading to poor Julius) demeanor, are falling apart in their own way: Stan’s marriage is on the rocks; Leo (Brian Russell) is not the businessman he appears to be; and debonair, wealthy Arthur (Steven Hauck, with excellent comic timing) has a health problem that stops them all in their tracks. All these problems come to the fore when the men are forced to fly to Mallorca in a sign of true friendship and out of fear the fled Julius has come to harm. The story goes from being a cry for help from one man to a realization that all these men are lost, lonely and needing brotherly reassurance. And, of course, it takes the wisdom and guidance of a woman, Roberta (Lisa Riegel), Julius’s newest love interest, to help them realize this. It’s a perfect sitcom formula but in long-form.
Mallorca harks back to Neil Simon’s classics which, not astonishingly, often translated quite well to half-hour TV comedies. It’s a jokey, sentimental story with a moral and a message. If that’s your thing, then Mallorca will be a delight, for it’s an entertaining play with sitcom-esque beats and corny jokes. But if you like your theater to stand out from the stuff you watch passively at home, then it might not be for you.
Mallorca. Through June 21 at the Abingdon Theatre Company (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues; 1st Floor). www.abingdontheatre.org
Photos: Kim T. Sharp