July 21, 2016
“The Last Schwartz” stars, from left, Brianne Beatrice (Bonnie), Gabriel Kuttner (Herb) and Andrea Goldman (Kia).
BY JACK BUTTERWORTH
GLOUCESTER — Want to share an evening at a rustic lakeside home with one of the funniest, saddest mismatched families you could ever imagine?
The Gloucester Stage Company and playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer can accommodate you.
Laufer’s “The Last Schwartz” shows us a traditional Jewish family gathering one year after the death of a stern patriarch. His daughter, three sons, a daughter-in-law and a surprise girlfriend gather for a weekend to say prayers for him and honor his memory.
But not everyone reveres the departed. When the surprise girlfriend turns out to be a sexy model with a wandering eye and a small stash of marijuana everybody shares secrets, each one more absurd and sadder than the last.
Laufer has created a reunion in which nearly every line starts an argument and the arguments force insights. Before she’s finished, every actor has several chances to shine. Under the skillful hands of actor-nurturing director Paula Plum, they do.
Brianne Beatrice plays daughter-in-law Bonnie on a note of repressed tragedy. She sets the tone for the play in the earliest moments, reducing herself to tears as she recalls a TV interview with female Siamese twins who want to have children.
Bonnie’s husband Herb, played by Gabriel Kuttner, turns loud, lustful and almost lost the moment he sets eyes on a younger woman who works as a model. The slow backward roll he does from a couch when Bonnie catches him with that woman is a fall from grace that is hauntingly funny.
Veronica Anastasio Wiseman plays Norma, the older sister, like a parent. Norma is the one who reveres tradition and her father to the point where she scares everyone. Wiseman plays her with enough restraint to make her sympathetic.
Glen Moore plays younger brother Gene as a somewhat bemused visitor who accepts the situation without respecting it.
Andrea Goldman’s Kia starts out as a Marilyn Monroe impression and quickly becomes the sanest person in the group. The way she vamps the other men at the house and shares girl-talk with Bonnie without ever taking herself seriously reveals the heart of the play.
Paul Melendy’s Simon, an astronomer who is going blind, gives the play meaning. Melendy gives his reading a “just sayin’” tone and his impression of walking on the moon is endearing.
“The Last Schwartz” runs through July 30 and it deserves to finish first on a list of evening entertainment.