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|A CurtainUp Review
Family Values is one of those ordinary people comedies that deliver exactly what you expect: Two acts of one-liners issued from the lips of six recognizable characters. It's an amiable time passer, the theatrical equivalent of easy listening music.
First on stage is Barbara, a woman of an uncertain age bringing you up-to-date on the events of the past three years in her life via a few remarks tossed out to her cat, one of the ugliest, most unrealistic props to grace a stage in a long time. She doesn't have to say much for we've met her type in countless other novels, movies and plays--a devoted homemaker tossed aside for a younger woman who manages to survive her emotional trauma and come out a stronger woman in the process. When we meet her she's the mistress of her own little apartment and holds an unspecified job. She's expecting a visit from her former husband. Whatever he has on his mind, she sounds definite when she says that for her to take him back "not only would hell have to freeze over, it would have to host the winter Olympics." But she's also tired of being called "ma'am"--code for her dormant yearning for romance. Obviously Ed, who does indeed want her to take him back is not going to have too hard a time persuading her to change her mind. Not that his reasons are very persuasive. It seems the "bimbo" who sidetracked him from home and hearth made him feel young when they were dating but old after they got married. Now it's Barbara who makes him feel young. Besides getting older would be more tolerable with her to rub his super-sensuous feet (which also led him into his career as a podiatrist).
With Ed repentant, and Barbara reluctantly willing, the play needs some complications to keep it from ending before it begins. Not to worry. As long as a couple has children, there are always complications. And so, before Barbara and Ed can move forward from three years of separation and back to a more equitable and slightly less humdrum relationship than the one they had, daughter Christine's and son Philip's romantic problems must also be ironed out.
The six members of the cast do as well as they can by the material they have to work with though none have the comic expression and timing needed to make this kind of family comedy resonate. The one most lacking in these qualities is Ellen Evans (Barbara). Interestingly it was she who inspired playwright Carl Ritchie to write the send up scene of Family Values. The part simply isn't suited to her talents. Unfortunately, none of the shtick the playwright added during the play's development have worked to transform the initial scene into a full-length play; that includes the additon of podiatry to other professions long associated with dull, plodding men or a character who looks to be one sort of person turn out to be quite different.
Daniel Ettinger's set changes from Laura Ashley floral to minimalist modern, are, like the rest of the play, in the been-there-seen-that mode. Apparently, in a last preview move, director Norman Hall wisely opted to cut the first scene of Act II. Had he condensed Act I as well, he might have eliminated such misfires as Barbara talking on the intercom to the person who seems to be knocking on her door.
At the afternoon performance on the day of the play's opening our eavesdropping exit poll seemed to indicate that enough people thought the play was fun and funny for it to fly in spite of the reservations voiced here.