Darkness can be a guilty pleasure. Bruce Graham’s Any Given Monday, currently onstage at the Greenbelt Arts Center, is a dark comedy-drama that makes you laugh in all the wrong places. Under the able direction of Ann Lowe-Barrett, Any Given Monday is a searing look at real life morality, or the lack of it, in a world where the means justifies the ends.
Lenny, a Philadelphia school teacher (Bob Kleinberg), has just found out that his wife, Risa, (Jill Vanderweit) is having an affair with wealthy entrepreneur Frank (an unseen character). The ultimate nice-guy, Lenny has resigned himself to eating cold pizza and watching football on the living room sofa where the story unfolds, as he laments his marital woes.
Lenny’s daughter Sarah (Sarah K. Scott), a college philosophy student, sets up the story with side-bar narratives and satiric humor to poke you in the funny bone as she ponders her mother’s affair and the shadowy side of life.
Enter Mickey (Mike Larson), Lenny’s loose cannon best friend who is onto Risa’s shenanigans. When Mickey nonchalantly tells Lenny that he had just knocked off Frank with two bullets to the head and stuffed in him the trunk of his car because he deserved it, the plot suddenly thickens.
In a “country full of morons” what could possibly be wrong with shooting a guy who had it coming to him for having an affair with his best friend’s wife? Mickey’s logic to Lenny is that, “I did for you—I didn’t know what to get you for your birthday.”
With twisted, amoral philosophizing as undertow, Any Given Monday is a complex mix of comedy and cynically dark humor that examines everything from man’s inherent evil, religion and the existence of God, homosexuals, and the Catholic church, a derisive view on Jews and the Holocaust, white guilt, vicarious violence, and ongoing social injustice against young African American males. It’s amazing that a play which essentially dissects the anatomy of an affair has this much existential meat to grind and as many laughs to tickle out of an audience.
Cynic, pragmatist, philosopher or nice guy, each character embellishes unfolding events true to his or her philosophy about life: Sarah is the main thinker as she puts her college book learning into full spin and draws a questionable line between right and wrong, good and evil. Sarah K. Scott portrays her namesake with a fresh-faced but knowing innocence that’s palpable. Bob Kleinberg’s pensive calm creates a believable sense of integrity and he gives a superb performance as the wronged but forgiving husband who finally stands up for himself.
As Risa, Jill Vanderweit is outstanding as the smarmy, unfaithful but contrite wife who learns her lesson about the pitfalls of a love tryst but not before satisfying her own need to relieve marital boredom with the exciting but elusive Frank.
Mike Larson is phenomenal and lets loose a center-of-gravity performance that is right on the trigger as the wired, gravelly-voiced Mickey, un-contrite perpetrator of the crime who gets away with it in the end.
This terrific ensemble brought Ann Lowe-Barrett and William Powell Jr.’s directorial conception fully to life. However, the pace of the play was a bit uneven as momentum was a slow take-off and even slower final landing. It took a while to build up to the climax and it felt belabored reaching its denouement. The expansive black box of the Greenbelt Arts Center was great staging for the cozy den set complete with family portrait, hanging artwork and homespun set painting by Annette Landers.
Any Given Monday is funny in an uncomfortable kind of way. The truth can sometimes be uncomfortable and the play’s themes make you question why you are laughing about things that are tragically true. It makes you examine why we do the things we do when we know they are not right but doing them makes us feel better in a perverse kind of way. It pushes the limits of what is civil and sane as sacrosanct rules are questioned, broken and then covered up like it never happened but leaves you giggling about it. Go see it!
Running Time: Two hours, plus one 15-minute intermission.
Sarah Scott on ‘Any Given Monday’ Opening Tonight at Greenbelt Arts Center.
Bob Kleinberg on ‘Any Given Monday’ Opening Tonight at Greenbelt Arts Center.
Jill Vanderweit on ‘Any Given Monday’ Opening Tonight at Greenbelt Arts Center. (Coming).