The Last Schwartz

Parade Productionsschwartz logo

Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center

by Deborah Zoe Laufer

Directed by Kim St. Leon

Comedy Packs a Punch

Could a play titled The Last Schwartz be anything but a comedy? Certainly, it is that — and yet significantly more.

It opens with a typically humorous situation: an expectedly dysfunctional (Jewish) family gathers at their childhood home the day prior to commemorating the Yarzheit (anniversary) of Dad’s death and the unveiling of his tombstone.

Who are these people?  Brittle, bossy, uptight oldest sister Norma, (Candace Caplin), heads the list, followed by slovenly brother Herb (Ken Clement) and his high-strung wife of 15 years, Bonnie (Kim Ostrenko). Carefree younger brother Gene (Matt Stabile) and his oh-so-sexy blond shiksa girlfriend Kia (Betty Graver) join them. Oddest sibling of all is scientifically brilliant but apparently autistic Simon (Mark Della Ventura), who sits silently with hands clasped over his ears for most of the evening, hiding from the strident tumult all around him.

Undercurrents abound — squabbling sibling and in-law distensions — not made any easier by what appears to be a dingbat outsider, Kia. In a very neat plot twist, she turns out to be the unlikely catalyst for insight and change.

Act I is brilliantly played for laughs, but in the second act these seemingly two dimensional characters  add dimension as we learn just what makes them tick — just what in their past has led them to this present, discordant moment.

As skillful as the weaving of the plot is the expertise of the cast. Ostrenko is especially effective, appearing as quite a rattle when she opens with a long description of Siamese twins appearing on a recently viewed Oprah show. From the extreme absurdity of her reaction to twins conjoined at the scalp who have dreams of separate careers and future husbands and children, we come to learn just what it was about them that triggered her extreme, almost hysterical reaction.  Equivalent revelations occur for the family members as they learn more about themselves and each other, including the fact that beloved Dad had feet of clay.

Playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer has a created a witty, fascinating, unpredictable story that provokes as much thought as laughter.

Recommended.

Beverly Friend, PhD

Member, American Theater Critics Assn.

Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center’s Studio Theatre, 2nd Floor, 201 Plaza Real. Boca Raton, FL, www.paradeproductions.org, 866-811-4111, tickets $38/40, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 3p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Feb 23.