‘Squabbles," the new play now running at Off-Broadstreet Theater in Hopewell, is a family drama (but then so was "King Lear"). "Squabbles," a comedy, is about a writer of advertising jingles, his wife who is a lawyer, her father, and his mother – all living under one roof, but not at first.
The play is written by Marshall Karp, himself a former advertising executive and now a TV writer and producer. "Squabbles" is his first play and has been produced in several languages. Robert Thick directs and keeps the play moving: it is never static. The acting throughout is solid. Even the (cordless) telephone has a role, with the caller’s voice emitted as a voiceover for the audience to hear.
The play opens on three inhabitants of a deep pink-walled house with framed pictures on the wall, in Stamford, Connecticut: the young couple Jerry Sloan (James K. Perri), and his wife, Alice Sloan (Lauren McGowan); and Abe Dreyfus (Doug Klein), Alice’s father, a widower recovering from a heart attack he won’t initially admit to but will later use to justify his staying in the household. (All six of the actors are Off-Broadstreet veterans: this is Klein’s 20th play here.)
Dreyfus, who drove a cab in New York and was married 48 years, immediately reveals himself to be loud, argumentative, and obstreperous, and boasts he had an argument every day with his wife. His motto: "An argument a day keeps the doctor away." He also likes to makes jokes. When Hector Lopez (Curtis Kaine), a handyman who has been hired to do lawn work but goes repeatedly up to the bathroom for lengthy visits, appears, Dreyfus calculates how much his son-in-law is paying Hector to sit on the toilet. He’ll sit on the toilet for less.
The play picks up when Alice’s probable pregnancy is confirmed by a telephone call from her doctor. Dreyfus will have to move from his room into the small guest room to make room for a nursery. The TV set in the room will move with him.
Another telephone call comes, this one from Jerry’s mother, Mildred Sloan (Carole Mancini). Her house has burned down: she has nowhere to go and pleads to move in with the Sloans "temporarily."
Mildred is slim, well dressed, and refined, probably wealthy, and speaks with an elegant, upper class accent. Mildred and Abe squabble over the TV set to be moved to his new room. The two parents continue
to throw verbal barbs at each other.
Act II opens with Jerry at the piano, this time singing "Freedom,
freedom." Political freedom? No, he’s writing a tampon commercial. Alice is hugely pregnant. Abe and Mildred continue their bickering. The young couple have rented a furnished apartment a few miles away and announce that one of the parents will have to move.
Alice begins having labor pains three weeks early and she and Jerry leave for the hospital in New York before the worst of an impending snowstorm.s It is here that the play really takes fire, becomes more than squabbling, and quickly engages the audience. Aided by a power failure, Abe and Mildred acquire another dimension, exhibiting emotional depth and tenderness.
Abe admits he fought all the time with his wife, Louise. Mildred confesses that her Leonard walked out: he was a compulsive gambler. She still sends him money. Dreyfus sees she has some good qualities.
A phone call brings news that the baby, a boy, is born. Abe and Mildred congratulate each other on becoming grandparents. Mildred realizes that she and Abe have been squabbling "over petty things."
Abe confesses he was born to squabble. Mildred contradicts him, telling him he has some good qualities. Abe accuses her of flirting.
Alice and Jerry return with the new baby held by the governess, stolid and Germanic Mrs. Fisher (here is co-producer Julie Thick making a rare cameo appearance). Alice, with Jerry, tells the two parents that that they both must move out by the end of the month,but – you guessed it – Abe and Mildred have another option.
Here playwright Karp moves into new territory – the lives of older people in this age of longevity, movingly stated by Abe. The play deepens, acquiring a new dimension. Suddenly it is the younger generation, Alice, who is indignant, shocked by the elders’ behavior (read: sexuality).
This is a comedy, yes, but now suddenly a heavyweight, with gravitas, a comedy that is, finally, engaging, emotionally stirring, delightful. But the audience isn’t the only thing that’s moved. Or will be.
The play ends with Alice and Abe still squabbling. Nothing has changed? Only their lives.
Squabbles, through Sunday, January 15, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. $23.75 to $25.25. 609-466-2766.