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A CurtainUp Berkshire Review

{Marriage} It's a working farm, not a petting zoo.— one of Tarloff's many trenchant observations on various aspects of life in general and that of Cedars narrator Gabe's in particular

James Naughton
The last Naughton and Naughton collaboration I witnessed was in 2003 when both James Naughton and his Daughter Keira were on stage together in a charming epistolary play Roses in December by Victor L. Cahn's entertaining epistolary play. While I though this two-hander was entertaining enough to blossom into other productions on regional stages like the two at the Berkshire Theatre Group, that hasn't happened. But the father and daughter team of Naughton and Naughton is indeed at BTG's Main Stage, this time with dad on stage and daughter Keira directing him in the world premiere of Cedars by Erik Tarloff.

The play is a solo about a middle aged lawyer name Gabe. The setting is a California hospital for which the play is named. Like many one-person productions, the scenery consists of just a few props (one of the reasons artistic directors on tight budgets love this genre).

I tend to find it rather disconcerting to have the actor starring in one of these ever more popular monologues to come on stage and rope me in as the missing on-stage colleague. Fortunately, Mr. Tarloff circumvents this by creating an unseen character as the recipient of Gabe's confidences. That invisible, immobile character is his comatose father and each of Cedars' five scenes has Gabe arrive for a "chat" with the man who's unlikely to exit his hospital room alive.

While Gabe isn't an exceptionally interesting man. We get caught up in his mid-life troubles only because James Naughton is the one regaling us —or rather his not so dear old dad— with all the details. Tarkoff has certainly heaped that plate full of troubles high: There's sister Deb given to disastrous liaisons. . . the secretive teen aged son Jared . . . the unwanted separation from wife Jessica which throws him back into the dating game. . .the dwindling of his one-man law firm's clients with his most time-consuming one his crazy mom. And, of course not to be overlooked, is the apparently soon to die dad who's been less than a model husband and father.

James Naughton oozes relaxed, engaging charisma. He skillfully conveys the aching vulnerability beneath the wry, wisecracking surface persona. Kiera Naughton does her best to avoid having Cedars succumb to the stasis prone tendencies of the genre by allowing the between scenes blackouts to work as refreshing pauses for the next round of dad-addressing revelations.

Mr. Tarloff is a well-credentialed writer but his chief credits involve TV shows like M*A*S*H, All in the Family and the Bob Newhart Show. But, even with James Naughton to play Gabe, Tarloff's sit-com roots keep Cedars from achieving the emotional depth that the actor does his best to convey. Sure, the script dishes up lots of zingers and trenchant observations like the quote about marriage at the top of this review. But the jokes upstage the drama and lessen its impact. Tarloff seems to The details about Gabe's internet dating life feel like a determined effort to make the audience react li one of his sitcom's laugh tracks those send the audience into hysterics, creating a live version of the laugh tracks of one of his sitcom comedies.

Credit Mr. Tarloff with giving his play an O. Henry-like twist that reminded me of another solo, Neil LaBute's Wrecks , also a star vehicle for a well-known actor (Ed Harris). The trouble with Tarloff's try for an O.Henry twist is that, despite the well-placed hints along the way, the sacrifice of emotional connection for the sake of easy laughs, again diminishes rather than enhances.

While Cedars once again demonstrates Mr. Naughton's ability to move beyond his famous roles in musicals like Chicago and City of Angels. And it looks as if the entire Naughton family enjoys the occasional directing gig (Son Greg Naughton will be directing the forthcoming BTG revival of A Hatful of Rain). Clearly, they're a far cry from the Gabe's dysfunctional kin.
Cedars by Erik Tarloff
Directed by Keira Naughton
Cast: James Naughton
Scenic Design: Hugh Landwehr
Costume Design: Laurie Churba Kohn
Lighting Design: Solomon Weisbard
Resident Composer/Sound Designer: Scott Killian
Stage Manager: Betsy Selman
Running Time: 90 minutes without an intermission
Fitzpatrick Main Stage in Stockbridge, MA.
Tickets, $42-62
From 7/23/14; opening7/26/14; closing 8/09/14
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 8/26 press opening
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