note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Sheila Barth
. Some plays have an uncanny way of striking a chord with audiences, not necessarily because they identify with experiences onstage, but because they’re beautifully and thoughtfully crafted. That’s the case with prolific playwright, Queens College professor and Boston University Visiting Professor Richard Schotter’s two-act, 115-minute “The Sussman Variations,” which recently appeared at Boston Playwrights Theatre.
There’s nothing sensational, shocking or astounding here. The play is a warmhearted slice of life in which a family comes together - grudgingly - to celebrate their egotistical father’s 75th birthday. Besides bringing their suitcases to stay at their formerly famous Broadway composer dad’s home in suburban, seaside Connecticut, they unload their long-simmering emotional baggage, revealing hidden truths that cast a different light on their longstanding ire.
Director Jeffrey Zinn leads this outstanding cast, a marvelous mixture of Boston headliners and two Boston University students with promising careers. Harrison Brian as green-haired, strumming, trendy teen, Todd, lightens the mood with humor, while Lauren Thomas, as intelligent, talented teen-ager Miranda, (she’s also an accomplished violinist), brightens scenes with her adolescent exuberance.
Miranda’s Shakespeare expert dad, Jonathan, (versatile actor-musician Steven Barkhimer) and her concert pianist virtuoso mom, Deirdre, (talented Laura Latreille) who put her career on hold for years but is now rehearsing for a renewal tour, loves her parents. But she’s crazy about her show biz grandfather, Charlie, and aspires to be in musical theater, like him.
But Jonathan has his own plans for Miranda. He wants her to follow in his academic footsteps and apply to his alma mater, Yale. Jonathan’s bitter resentment toward his father and his insistence about Miranda’s future is driving a big wedge between the family.
Charlie, who’s turning 75 years old, has a heart condition. He’s retired from his Tony Award-winning, composing past, but making a final fling at creating his last big show. Meanwhile, he and Miranda enjoy making music together.
Ken Baltin as Charlie Sussman delivers an outstanding performance. He’s self-centered, wanting everyone to listen to his new compositions, and to him; but he’s especially loving and adoring to Miranda. He beams in her presence, giving in to her every whim. His softer side also emerges with his caring wife, Margery, the other fan in his corner, whom star Cheryl McMahon touchingly portrays. She desperately tries to maintain a homey, caring atmosphere and harmony among Charlie’s family, knowing inwardly they resent her.
Charlie’s daughter, Janey, (Erin Cole) doesn’t resent her father,nor Margery. Not really. She remembers his absenteeism, always being on the road, away from them, perhaps overlooking her, Jonathan, and her dying mother. Like Jonathan, Janey moved 3,000 miles away, to California, to put distance between her and her dad. She also harbors what she considers to be a big secret, but it’s not as shocking to her family - especially Charlie - as she surmises. Besides, Charlie has his own secret, which changes the tide for them all.
Phil Schroeder’s musical offerings brighten this pleasing production, along with John Malinowski’s lighting, David Wilson’s sound effects, especially during a tide-churning, thunder-clapping storm, which are nicely nestled in Marc Olivere’s charming set.
Appearing at Playwrights Theatre, 949 Commonwealth Ave., Boston, through Nov. 18; Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, at 8 p.m.; Sunday, at 2 p.m. Admission, $30, BU faculty, staff, seniors, $25; students, 25-under, with valid ID, $10. Call 866-811-4111 or visit www.bostonplaywrights.org