Andrew Bergman, the author of "Social Security," which opened at the Moulton Playhouse on Thursday, is a veteran screenwriter known for the big laugh. His scripts include "Blazing Saddles" and "The In-Laws"--not bad credentials for a funny man, especially if you like it broad.
And those who do probably won't be disappointed by "Social Security." It's loaded with gags, at least a handful a minute, most of them as subtle as a poke to the ribs.
The jokes surrounding art world upper-crusters David and Barbara Kahn and their skirmishes with her sister, Trudy Heyman, and her dopey accountant husband, Martin, are pretty sitcomish, built more around silly situations than anything else. The primary situation is the arrival of Barbara's and Trudy's mother, who has been dumped on the Kahns when the Heymans find themselves in a family crisis involving their sexually adventuresome daughter.
The Kahns (Kathleen Collins and Jerry Evans), own a trendy Manhattan gallery; the Heymans (Marcie Ross and Bruce T. Campbell) live on Long Island and don't know anything about art. They get on each other's nerves. They put each other down a lot. They crack wise. Then Mom (Pati Tambellini) comes along and oy vay!
Mom comes on like Jaws but turns into quite a charmer when a famous artist starts courting her. Bergman, in a fairly graceless but sweet way, delivers a gentle comment on how love and magic can enter our lives even when everybody else thinks we're a step from the mortuary.
The rest of the comedy isn't quite as sweet-spirited. "Social Security" can get a little feisty, as with its ongoing zinger at rich people who worship fine art, believing it to be emblematic of social standing. It's a good target--all that pretentiousness and superficial thinking deserves a kick in the shins--but it gets weary, old-hat, after a while.
The crowd pleasers in director Beth Hansen's cast have to be Tambellini and Collins. Tambellini plays it fairly restrained, even when she's creating havoc for the Kahns, and she serves the role well. Her transition from dud to duchess is smooth; not funny, but easy to accept.
Collins, on the other hand, is all effect and antics. Her Barbara is a nervous, neurotic New York mess--the comedy comes from watching her get overwhelmed by every little thing. But there's not much character development.
Evans, who approaches David as the quintessence of glib, and Campbell, with his completely up-tight Martin, do their jobs as comic foils. In a small role as the old artist wooing Mom, David Paul brings in some class.
The set is supposed to give us an idea of just how successful and important the Kahns are, but Gil Morales' creation is not convincing. The look is more medium-cost hodgepodge (would a wealthy couple use what look like clear plastic end tables?) than expensive chic. And the "beautiful" canvas of Mom, painted by her "genius" suitor and supposedly a telling symbol of her new life, is without style.
A Laguna Playhouse production of Andrew Bergman's comedy. Directed by Beth Hansen. With Kathleen Collins, Jerry Evans, Marcie Ross, Bruce T. Campbell, Pati Tambellini and David Paul. Set by Gil Morales. Lighting by Steve Shaffer. Costumes by Jennifer Jo. Plays Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 26 at the Moulton Playhouse, 650 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach. Tickets: $13 and $14. (714) 494-8021.