The best of Broadway comes from many sources. Sometimes a book, sometimes a movie and sometimes a play that was well received out of town.
One great example is “August: Osage County.” The play debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre and quickly transferred to Broadway, picking up a Pulitzer Prize and a Best Play Tony Award. The story dealing with a severely dysfunctional family had many hard hitting, emotionally raw scenes that were told to extremely humorous effect.
The show’s Weston family faces a new challenge – the Shapiro family from the equally masterful “Miserable with an Ocean View,” now playing Saturdays until (likely) mid October at LA area Sherman Oaks’ Whitefire Theater. Writer Howard Skora has created a new family that seems to be moving right into the Weston’s territory. A show that is so over-the-top that it towers over so many productions that try to add humor to some truly dark family situations.
In a story of a mother who is truly hell on wheels, riding on her children’s last ounce of self-respect as she rolls over them emotionally and commands supremacy from her wheelchair. Oscar and Tony nominated Patty McCormack is able to control her three adult children even though she can no longer speak, having to share her emotions and commands via dry eraser.
McCormack (the evil child from “The Bad Seed”) continues to be the spawn of Satan in this riveting yet riotous tale. McCormack appears to be pure evil – but Skora is able to find the absurdity and humor in some of the most shocking situations. His words come to beautiful life with one of the most flawless casts every to grace the stage in the guise of the three actors who play McCormack’s children.
First there’s Elizabeth Regen as daughter Judy. Regen’s facial expressions and timing pale in comparison to her spot-on Long Island accent that almost literally breaks our ear drums as she shrieks in moments of shock and surprise to some of the show’s most outlandish situations. Her voice, kind of a combination of Fran Drescher and Long Islander Rosie O’Donnell, pushes it to its humorous pinnacle while making it seem real and not one dimensional.
As younger and gay brother Jeff, Paul Elia, is able to find a sweetness and humanity even though his character has sex with a clown (don’t ask – just see) and shares penis photos from his smart phone. For a majority of the play, Elia seems to play it straight (no pun) in a family that is on the emotional brink. Then he almost turns the table, providing several scene stealing moments.
Older son Ray is brought to delightful life by the sublime Alex Skuby, whose delivery is on par to comedian Brad Garrett and whose raw sex appeal actual sometimes pull focus from the other actors. Skuby wears his part of over-exercised, laid back, self involved womanizer like a glove. He’s the red pepper that actually really spices up the family.
The ensemble of actors is also joined by Stephen Guarino as the Clown and as a Therapist. Guarino is doing a short run in the show as Drew Droege has taken a hiatus to do the drag “Golden Girlz.” Guarino fits right into the house of dysfunction as he comes to life as the Clown, who is actually part of the thoughts of Jeff.
The terrific cast and brilliant script are only enhanced by director Jim Fall, who seems to know how to push his actors to the edge but is able to stop them from going too far. A lot of what goes on with this family is definitely miserable. But like the title suggestions, sometimes it’s easier to take pain with perhaps a picturesque view. In the case of this show, the side splitting humor makes the dark truths of this family not only patable, but makes you seriously laugh out loud.
Keep up with its ever-extending run at www.miserablewithanoceanview.com.
UPDATE: It’s not extended through Oct. 10!