Aisle on the Isle: "Happy Saturdays"
"Happy Saturdays" is not a generic wish for extended pleasant weekends.
It is, instead, the name of a new comedy by Steve Strangio, now in production at Marcalan Glassberg's cozy and charming Authors' Playhouse in Bay Shore.
The play is about the interconnected work and private lives of five employees (four frazzled veterans and one extremely callow new hire) and their unreasonably demanding/borderline sadistic supervisor, the cleverly named, Mr. Jonez. (The name invokes both the commonality of the sadistic bosses we have all endured, and, with the quirky "z" -- which he carefully and literally spells out to the heard-it-all-before employees -- the character's unjustified belief in his own uniqueness and self-importance.)
The action takes place in the break room of a theme restaurant (think Applebee's, T.G.I. Fridays, or any establishment of the "are we having fun yet" variety).
We first encounter Rusty (John Tomasello), a disillusioned, wise mouthed, drink-through-the-day employee. As good friend and former mentor to Johnny (Michael Bogart), the hub of the Happy Saturdays' wheel, Rusty provides both comic asides and eventual pathos to the unfolding story.
Gabrielle is Johnny's sister, another long term drone at the restaurant hive. She recognizes both her brother's potential for more gainful and promising employment -- he has a job offer elsewhere, with a company offering both a cubicle and the possibility of advancement -- and the potential of a love-sick, recently jilted newbie, Billy (performed to great comic effect by Chris Parsons), for more amorous adventures. With great gusto as played by Deanna Whiteman, she is hardly shy about expressing herself regarding either.
Michael Bogart's well nuanced Johnny is smart, funny, and conflicted. Intelligent enough to see the restaurant for what it is, he nevertheless hesitates to move on with his life toward the better opportunity. Held back by inertia, sneering disregard for corporate shills (though, as Rusty correctly points out, he already is one) and lingering feelings for former girlfriend Kay (the appropriately manipulative Joanna Brown), a waitress who sees her body as a means to further her own career goals, it is Johnny's story that most realistically reflects the lives of people we know.
Therein lies my only real complaint with the show.
Mr. Strangio describes his work as combining situation comedy and live theater. I'm not sure that's desirable, or even possible. The two cater to different audiences, serve different purposes, through vastly, deliberately different means. (When Mr. Strangio successfully produces a sitcom based on this show, earning zillions in royalties and residuals, I hope he contacts me to call me a chowderhead. And I hope he takes me to lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel to do so, too.)
The deliberately broad comedy is enjoyable throughout, but it is the relationships among the characters which truly engage. Demonstrating the ambivalence felt toward a former lover, the dissonance associated with changing jobs, the evolving nature of a long term friendship, are all the playwright's strengths. To juxtapose reality-based interactions immediately up against strokes of pure comic fantasy is jarring for the audience, and perhaps requires further thought. (Uh-oh. So much for lunch.)
That said, the excellent performance of Jim Vignato as the screaming and relentlessly mean boss with almost no socially redeeming value, must be noted. The production moves along quickly after a bit of a slow start, thanks to the deft hand of director Susan Tromans. Stage manager Alyse M. Anekstein, did a great job -- as did Ms. Tromans and all concerned -- of staging the production in rather tight quarters. Mike Russo, with subtle application of light and sound, helped foster both the restaurant atmosphere and the desired dramatic effect for the actors.
For an interesting theater experience, catch "Happy Saturdays," at the Authors' Playhouse (34 West Main Street), in one of the three remaining performances; Friday, Saturday and Sunday, June 3, 4 and 5.
For more information about the show, call 631.666.7529 or visit HappySaturdays.com and the Authors' Playhouse online.
"Aisle on the Isle" is a series of reviews of Long Island theater events by Aliceann Donnelly, former attorney and college professor, and incurable, lifelong theater junkie.