- Greggory Moore
Like so many 1950s suburbanites, Herbert, Ethel, and their daughter Cindy like Ike, and—on the surface, at least—they revel in the predictable, button-down ethos is the rule in Orchard Grove. But three escaped convicts upset their domestic tranquility, raising questions about whether home is really where the heart is.
If that description entices you into thinking you may get dark explorations of the suburban soul, forget about it. Rich Orloff’s Domestic Tranquility screwball slapstick à la Mel Brooks, though without pushing any envelopes.
That’s the only thing you need to take away from this review in deciding whether to see Domestic Tranquility, because Little Fish does an apt job with the material. With energy that never flags, the cast is silly and over the top, which is probably the only way to do a play like this. You want Jerry Lewis, not Robert De Niro.
Orloff’s 1950s suburbia is something like Pleasantville. But unlike Gary Ross’s cinematic masterpiece (sidenote: Ross must have made a deal with the devil on that one, because nothing else he’s done is remotely close), there’s no cultural explanation in Domestic Tranquility. Its mid-’50s culture is just the setting, there for little more than yuks and throwaway period references (Edward G. Robinson, On the Waterfront).
As for the humor, for the most part you see every punchline coming from a mile away, and the blows Orloff lands are pretty soft. On the rare occasions he goes for more he gets mixed results. The prime example is a pair of flashback scenes. The first, which involves two of the escaped cons in Catholic school as kids, not only falls flat in its satire of priestly lust for young boys, but it gets quite creepy as one of the boys wants to give his bare bottom to the lusty father. But moments later we’re into the second flashback, which involves Ethel (Shirley Hatton) getting electroconvulsive therapy from a doctor and nurse (Daniel Tennant and Bill Wolski, doubling from their primary roles as two of the convicts). This is pure slapstick, and it works to perfection, making for the play’s funniest scene. Orloff follows these up with a disclaimer of an aside that makes for his most clever moment.
Director Holly Baker-Kreiswirth gets about as much as she can get out of the material. She has her actors covering the entire depth of the stage (the audience at the Little Fish Theatre is seated in a long L configuration that abuts the ground-level stage area, giving the cast a lot of room to roam), so the proceedings never feel physically static. Even the scene changes keep the audience engaged, as in the half-light the actors pantomime various exchanges between the characters during the “offstage” passage of time.
But Domestic Tranquility is what it is. If Mel Brooks lite is appealing to you, you’re home. If not….
DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY LITTLE FISH THEATRE • 777 CENTRE ST • SAN PEDRO 90731 • 310.512.6030 • LITTLEFISHTHEATRE.ORG • FRI-SAT 8PM + MARCH 20 (SUN), 2PM • $25-27; WITH DINNER $38-48 • THROUGH APRIL 2
(Photo credit: Mickey Elliot)