Poor Sarah: Prices are up, stocks are down, newscasters are full of cheery gloom, her son-in-law is a philandering snake, her daughter has settled for housewife status and plenty of Prozac, her ex-husband's brow is rapidly furrowing under investigation for fraud, and, above everything else, Sarah's TV-writing career is in the toilet because the network "kids" think she's too old to be relevant. Why, even Le Cirque is closed. What's a person to do? In Lee Thuna's sharp contemporary comedy, the answer is a simple case of self-induced starvation.
Under Richard Hochberg's able direction, Caroline Aaron as the depressed Sarah is the heart of the production--a woman still forced to be her family's Rock of Gibraltar even as her body starts to shut down. Not even pastrami from Zabar's can dissuade Sarah from her mission to fade away from life's cares and woes, but as she begins to repeatedly faint or doze off from lack of nourishment, she's jarred awake with thoughts such as, "What? Is it rewrite night?" all the time holding her emotionally fragile loved ones together despite the continuous barrage of life's little--and sometimes massive--challenges.
It's a shame Aaron's wonderfully cynical performance has nowhere to go. As written, Sarah's take-charge strengths dwindle along with the natural effects of malnutrition. This leaves her character sprawled across her couch wavering in and out of consciousness as the play crescendos, her lucid moments spent falling sideways onto one family member's shoulder or the other as they continue to live their rather selfish lives around her. Even with eyes closed and mouth drooping, however, Aaron holds her own in a precision ensemble: Anthony Cummings as her neurotic Handy Wipe-obsessed ex, Dorothea Harahan as her nebbishy daughter, and especially Jeremy Kent Jackson as her delightfully slimy son-in-law. Thuna's script is crisp, quick-witted, and chock-full of biting humor particularly topical for denizens of the film industry. But the predictable happy ending is something of a tragedy in a warped way, leaving the viewer wondering if euthanasia might be a better alternative than returning to a life dominated by people so self-centered they almost don't notice that their maternal anchor is fading away right before their distracted eyes. The final push for rescue and a couple of great surprise costume changes notwithstanding, one can only hope that in her next life, Sarah might get a better break.
Presented by Judy Arnold Productions with and at the Victory Theatre Center, 3326 W. Victory Blvd., Burbank. Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 3 & 7 p.m. Nov. 5-Dec. 18. (818) 841-5421.