If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh. Otherwise they’ll kill you.
That quote, usually attributed to George Bernard Shaw, aptly describes Any Given Monday, a play by Philadelphia’s very own Shaw, Bruce Graham, that will make you laugh out loud and then stay up all night pondering the author’s moral questions.
The opinions Graham’s characters voice are nasty ones. For example:
- Everyone enjoys committing an occasional evil act: it’s freeing, empowering and fun.
- The end always justifies the means.
- God doesn’t really fit into the equation of modern life.
- Monday Night Football is merely modern men’s way of releasing violence.
These are only some of the ideas running through this black comedy, which has been given a razor-sharp production directed by Barbara D. Mills. Graham’s humor infects each barbed line delineating the play’s troubling ideas. A philosophy student claims to subscribe to “the religion of the month club.” A football fan who hates both teams watches the game to enjoy the injuries. There are a number of first-class monologues that are both funny and insightful, especially one musing on the relationship between Jewish husbands and wives.
Graham’s characters are masterfully drawn with complex back-stories. First there’s Mickey (Lenny Grossman), a highly-strung Irish Catholic who works in the subway. He is hilariously politically incorrect in almost every possible way, but his hidden rage covers a dark secret. Grossman makes Lenny a complex yet strangely likable human being.
Mickey’s best friend Lenny (Joe Herman) is a traditional, docile husband who stirs audience sympathy as he grows from a lovably meek schoolteacher into a man who is strong, self-aware and, just perhaps, criminal. Herman delivers a skillfully modulated performance.
Then there’s Risa (Jen Allegra), who unaccountably walks out on the sheepish but devoted Lenny to be with a rich, handsome womanizer. She realizes her actions defy logic, but revels in the newfound excitement of her unhappy affair. Allegra scores as powerful Jewish mom who runs her household with an iron hand (no feet on the coffee table, no dogs allowed) until change sends her reeling into uncertainty.
This is all anchored by Sara (Julie Roberts), Lenny and Risa’s daughter, who is a typically self-absorbed college philosophy student. She continually confronts everyone with the moral conundrums that the plot (which won’t be revealed here) constantly creates. Roberts is a skilled performer who captures the play’s irony, and wit. She has the most powerful line of the evening, when she discusses Anne Frank’s famous line about people being good at heart: “And, no offense to the poor kid, but she was like totally wrong. People are really kind of… rotten.”
All of the performers clearly understand the ethical questions the author presents, and the steel-cut comedy timing is a tribute to Mills’ direction. Add the costumes of Joan Blake (there’s quite a lot of them) that always nail the characters, and the set and lighting (by Maria Nappo and Gilbert Todd) that convincingly represent a middle class suburban Philadelphia home, and you have a nearly flawless presentation.
This is the Stagecrafters’ fifth production of a Bruce Graham play. They obviously know their man. Graham will conduct a question and answer session following the February 10th performance. Given the questions the play raises, it should make for a lively discussion.
Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes, including an intermission.
Any Given Monday plays through Sunday, February 19, 2017 at the Stagecrafters Theater – 8130 Germantown Avenue, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 247-9913, or purchase them online.