A comforting mix of the familiar and unexpected floats the smooth 25th anniversary revival of "Aspirin & Elephants" at the Santa Monica Playhouse. Despite some formulaic aspects, playwright Jerry Mayer's boulevard comedy about intergenerational marital issues on a cruise ship is a surefire date show, a high-end sitcom with flashes of emotional heft.
The title refers to the blood-thinning meds and cardiac pressures endured by Stephen "Junior" Frank (Kip Gilman), a St. Louis paterfamilias whose wisenheimer attitude conceals genuine dread, hence his secret stash of an alleged euthanasia drug called "The Terminator."
Facing early retirement after a heart attack, Junior and Honey (Wendy Michaels), his long-suffering spouse, have booked a celebratory Royal Norway voyage with their married daughters, who provide tart counterpoint to their parents' bedroom woes.
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Stephanie (Amanda Maddox), the eldest, uses materialism and motherhood to mask her shaky union with lingerie executive Scott (Todd Cattell). Liz (Ryan Driscoll), her outspoken sibling, faces a career opportunity that could decimate hug-happy Arnie (Michael Marinaccio), her struggling screenwriter husband. More than one long-suppressed truth emerges before this roundelay reaches its sweet-natured conclusion.
Mayer is an acquired taste, the writing given to explication and easy zingers, yet his post-Neil Simon instincts are essentially solid. Aided by some smart designers, original director Chris DeCarlo adroitly revisits the old-school material, which his accomplished cast puts over.
Gilman and Michaels make respectively hilarious and touching linchpins. Maddox and Driscoll actually resemble their progeny, nicely countered by Cattell and the scene-stealing Marinaccio, and George Coe's voice-overs as the ship's captain are most droll. "Aspirin & Elephants" hardly advances the form, but in the current climate, there's much to be said for such unapologetically crowd-pleasing entertainment.
"Aspirin & Elephants," Santa Monica Playhouse, 1211 4th St., Santa Monica. 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays. Ends Jan. 26. $29. (310) 394-9779 or www.SantaMonicaPlayhouse.com. Running time: 1 hour, 50 minutes.