'Family Planning' comes to Colony Theatre

It's bad enough that divorced, New Age convert Dad has moved in with his daughter and son-in-law for an indefinite stay. When flighty, newly widowed Mom arrives with enough luggage to sink a ship, it isn't clear what will be the first to go: the younger couple's marriage or their sanity.

"Family Planning," a world premiere play by Michelle Kholos Brooks at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, aspires for more than one-note marital mayhem played for laughs. That it gets near the real-world edge and emotional depths it strives for owes a good deal to director Cameron Watson's signature sensitivity for plays about place and family, and to the accomplished cast, led by notable stage and screen veterans Christina Pickles and Bruce Weitz as renegade parents Diane and Larry, with Dee Ann Newkirk and Jack Sundmacher as harried couple Sidney and Michael.

Separate economic realities have driven Diane and Larry back to the house they once owned together, where Sidney and Michael now live. Larry, the victim of a high-profile Ponzi scheme and a larcenous girlfriend, ostentatiously meditates, chants, goes to yoga class, hopes to make a financial comeback selling a novelty bathroom accessory and scoffs at Michael's efforts to start a web-based business.

Snubbed in her wealthy husband's will in favor of her stepdaughter, Diane jumps into speed-dating, pretends to hunt for an apartment, and clearly views passive-aggressive fault-finding as sport.

Barbs fly between the divorced parents, and their over-the-top hostilities — escalating to childish, food fight extremes — drive Sidney and Michael up the wall and increasingly apart. They can't kick Sidney's parents out of their own house and they're in no financial position themselves to move.

As sparring exes, Weitz and Pickles are a dynamic pairing, matching one another in comic ferocity. Newkirk and Sundmacher are equally well-matched in the authenticity of Sidney's exasperation and vulnerability and Michael's concern and mounting frustration with the untenable set-up.

The parents' constant carping one-liners, however, wear out their welcome. Diane and Larry's self-absorption and Diane's apparent lack of maternal feeling too soon come across as toxic and cruel. ("It's not easy being a mother," Diane says. Sidney responds, "How would you know?")

When a hospital scare and a subsequent, martini-fueled rapprochement between Diane and Larry bring about a too-facile tonal shift toward mutual understanding and appreciation for the meaning of home and family, the believable emotional resonances can be credited to Watson and his cast. Most movingly, Weitz and Pickles convey what fuels Larry and Diane's mutual recriminations and juvenile attempts at one-upmanship: hurts long unspoken and the fearful terra incognita of aging and economic instability.

The production values are top-notch, from set designer David Potts' attractive house configuration (with added lived-in realism from designer and set dresser John McElveney) to costume designer Kate Bergh's astute eye, Jared A. Sayeg's expressive, leafy lighting and Steve Cahill's original music and pristine sound design.

What: "Family Planning"

Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. Third St. (at Cypress) adjacent to the Burbank Town Center Mall, Burbank.

When: 8 p.m. Thursday to Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Ends Aug. 10.

Tickets: $20 to $49

More info: (818) 558-7000, Ext. 15; colonytheatre.org


LYNNE HEFFLEY writes about theater and culture for Marquee.

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