Timothy Scott Harris, Baz Snider and Dee Dee Friedman in "Desire in the Suburbs." Source: BroadwayWorld
Review by Ellen Wernecke
The cover of my program for WorkShop Theatre Company's latest play, "Desire in the Suburbs," features a cartoon of a small boy and a woman with very long legs. Someone has added a speech bubble with the hand-printed words, "Hey Mom, you're hot."
It's crude, but completely relevant to the tone and plot of the play, which at once updates and sends up the Eugene O'Neill classic "Desire Under the Elms." Mike O'Neal (Baz Snider) is a pot-smoking professor whose first wife has disappeared (or was murdered) and is now happily remarried to a salon entrepreneur named Jenny (Dee Dee Friedman). Jenny's about the same age as Mike's son Ed (Timothy Scott Harris), who moved back home three months ago after he lost his job as a lawyer and gave up his Turtle Bay Cigar Bar lifestyle. It's like "Failure to Launch," but this balding 39-year-old is more David Sedaris than Matthew McConaughey, trying to cope with his situation by needling his father and trying to curry favor with his new stepmom. In the play's opening scene, he calls her Mom just to bait Dad, while proclaiming that 90 percent of all murders take place in the home.
Ed tries to warn Jenny about the man she married -- a guy who keeps multiple lovers unapologetically and may or may not have a dark past -- while she teeters on heels with a transparent pink netting apron edged with plaid. That apron, if nothing else, indicates we are in "American Beauty" territory; if she didn't laugh at the way Ed begins to hit on her in the first act, then we wouldn't be able to either. When Dad jokes, "This is why I'm afraid to leave you two alone" as he heads to a law conference (or tryst), you know a game of "Hump the Stepmom" is up ahead.
I think I detected in the play's opening the beginning of the soundtrack to Disney's "Beauty and the Beast," which is one way to look at the combination of Friedman and Harris onstage. Their chemistry simultaneously attracts and repels us, not only because of the Oedipal-by-marriage tint, but also because of the motives that naturally float to the surface. Uncovering them is a delicious undertaking, and unlike other tales of familial desire ("The Royal Tenenbaums"' adopted sibling pair, or "Arrested Development"'s desperate cousins) theirs is no pure love above the situation. At the same time, the way they play off each other makes Friedman and Snider's characters look comparatively stiff and formal, as if they had married before they even met. Mike never entirely figures out what's going on (even when Ed volunteers the information), but he, too, can sense the air crackling around them. Mom, you're dangerous.