They whine, they can’t share, they’re pathologically needy … all the familiar complaints about child rearing surface in “Family Planning,” but not in the way you might expect.
Michelle Kholos Brooks’ new comedy at the Colony Theatre turns today’s “repopulating the empty nest” trend on its head: Instead of economically pummeled children returning to live with their parents, it's the latter who elbow their way back into the home of their exasperated offspring.
The New York suburban Jews in question may be secularized, but their neuroses remain undiluted, particularly in the way they poke at one another’s emotional sore spots (their dysfunctional vocabulary for intimacy). It’s a territory playwright Brooks clearly knows well and, despite some labored plotting, charts with squirm-inducing authenticity amid her comic hyperbole.
The play’s debut outing benefits greatly from TV veterans Christina Pickles and Bruce Weitz’s polished charisma as the divorced elders, Diane and Larry, fleeing their respective later-life failures to reclaim the house they’ve allowed daughter Sidney (Dee Ann Newkirk) and her husband, Michael (Jack Sundmacher), to occupy rent-free.
Since they’re in no financial position to decamp, the younger couple must reluctantly impose adult supervision on Pickle’s smother-mother from hell and Weitz’s bankrupt financier patriarch turned goofy new-age disciple. Worse, Larry’s attempting a comeback cornering the market in heated toilet seats, which start piling up at an alarming rate in David Potts’ superbly detailed living room set.
Cameron Watson’s staging efficiently navigates banter and gravitas as needed. However, while the play touches on a wide range of issues in the shifting sands of generational and marital relations, it rarely ventures beneath the surface — conflicts tend either to wrap up with pat sitcom resolutions or simply drop off the radar (as in the recurring invocation of an unseen antagonist with no real payoff).
The most accomplished scene — in which an inebriated Diane and Larry air their grievances — is also a template for further script development: pare back and dig deeper.
“Family Planning,” Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank. 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Aug. 10. $20-$49. (818) 558-7000 or www.colonytheatre.org. Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes.