All in the family feud
Deborah Zoe Laufer’s comedy ‘The Last Schwartz’ at Gloucester Stage
By MARK SARDELLA
GLOUCESTER — The Last Schwartz, by Deborah Zoe Laufer is a play about family ties – the ones that bind, the ones that bend and the ones that break.
In the opening scene, Herb Schwartz’s wife Bonnie (Brianne Beatrice) is describing to family members an Oprah episode about the strongest family tie imaginable, that of conjoined Siamese twins. Bonnie relates how on the show the twin girls each express their hopes and dreams. One wants to be a doctor. The other wants to be a mother and have a family.
But when the twins add that they would never want to be surgically separated, neither Oprah nor her studio audience betrays that their goals are unattainable.
Last summer, Gloucester Stage gave us another Laufer gem in Out of Sterno, a quirky, fairy tale of a comedy about a housewife who escapes an abusive marriage and finds her true identity.
But is it?
In The Last Schwartz, the adult siblings of a dysfunctional Jewish family gather for the weekend in the old family homestead in the Catskills for the formal religious observance (Yahrzeit) of the one-year anniversary of their father’s death, bringing with them the chaos, resentment and tensions that typically characterize such occasions.
Norma (played by Veronica Anastasio Wiseman) is the eldest Schwartz sibling and she has taken it upon herself to organize the memorial. Norma demands that her siblings respect the gravity of the occasion, but the others are each in their own way looking to escape the toxic gravitational pull of a family once dominated by an oppressive patriarch and now by his successor in Norma.
A bit of a killjoy, Norma has been estranged from her husband and teenage son ever since she turned her son in to the police for smoking pot. (Well, nobody’s all bad.)
Herb (Gabriel Kuttner) is the oldest Schwartz brother. A financial wiz, he reads the Wall Street Journal religiously.
Herb’s wife Bonnie converted to Judaism to be accepted by her father-in-law, who related to everyone and everything in terms of Jewish ethnicity. She’s had five miscarriages and desperately wants a child. Her next emotional crisis is never far off.
Simon (Paul Melendy) is the middle brother. He’s an astronomer and may have autistic tendencies. Although he’s going blind, he spends most of his time staring through a telescope remembering star clusters from his childhood. He believes the human race is not long for this world and dreams of escaping to a lunar or Martian space station. Melendy brings a stoic, Richard Benjamin vibe to the brilliant but socially awkward Simon.
At 30, Gene (Glen Moore) is the youngest Schwartz. A director of TV commercials, he brings to the family weekend his new girlfriend, party girl Kia (Andrea Goldman). The perpetually scantily clad 20-year-old is the star of his latest “Fat No More!” commercial, whom he cast after an audition in his bedroom.
Kia is at the polar opposite end of the pendulum from the Schwartz family. She was raised by a commune of hippies on a California Beach and has no idea who her parents are or what her ethnicity is. Her admitted life goal is “to have a good time.”
Kia brings a refreshingly carefree attitude to the proceedings as a bit of a stereotypical California airhead. When told that Simon is an astronomer, she asks him to guess her sign. A marijuana devotee, she pronounces Herb’s name with a silent “H.”
After directing Laufer’s Out of Sterno last summer, local favorite Paula Plum returns to Gloucester Stage to direct this Laufer entry.
The Last Schwartz is a wickedly funny comedy that anyone who’s ever been a part of a family will appreciate – even if you’re not Jewish.
The Last Schwartz runs through July 30 at Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main St. Gloucester, Mass. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Single ticket prices are $28 to $38 with discounts available Cape Ann Residents, Senior Citizens and Patrons 25 years old and under. Purchase tickets online or phone the Box Office at 978-281-4433.. Pay What You Wish tickets are available for the Saturday, July 16 matinee at 2 p.m. Pay What You Wish tickets can only be purchased day of show at the door.
[The Last Schwartz, by Deborah Zoe Laufer. Directed by Paula Plum. Set Design, Jon Savage. Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito. Lighting Design, Russ Swift. Sound Design, Andrew Duncan Will. Stage manager, Jenna Worden. Properties Design/Assistant Set Design, Mary Sader.]
Photos by Kippy Goldfarb/Carolle Photography
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Tags: Andrea Goldman, Brianne Beatrice, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Family, Gabriel Kuttner, Glen Moore, Gloucester Stage, Gloucester Stage Company, Jewish, Judaism, Mark Sardella, Paul Melendy, Paula Plum, The Last Schwartz, theater, theatre, Veronica Anastasio Wiseman, Wakefield Daily Item