ALBANY — I am loathe to jump on the media bandwagon that insists on labeling Jane Anderson’s comic drama “Looking for Normal” as “an important play.”
Just like its television cousin — the “very special episode” — the “an important play” moniker causes muscles to clench, smiles to fade and conversations to become hushed and reverent when confronted with such a warning label. It also causes people to tense up and “prep” for the experience in some vague and bogus way.
How is this good? A big danger of notifying the audience that a play is “important” before they see it is that you take the risk of telling the audience how to feel instead of allowing an organic theatrical experience to happen.
So I will simply report that “Looking for Normal” is a very good play. It is a play that you will enjoy — you’ll laugh, you’ll scream, you’ll cry. The play seems prescient (the play’s central conflict is in the news now, despite being written more than a decade ago). It is refreshingly honest and truly funny.
‘Looking for Normal’
WHERE: Albany Civic Theater
WHEN: Through Nov. 22
HOW MUCH: $18
MORE INFO: 518-462-1297, www.albanycivic.org
Told in a series of short scenes and monologues, “Looking for Normal” follows the journey of 52-year-old Roy (Richard Angehr) as he navigates the waters of mid-life crisis. And it’s a big one — he is about to reveal his true self to his wife Irma (Suzanne Baker) and his two children, still-at-home tomboy Patty Ann (Kaeli Heffner) and out-of-the-house-and-on-the-road Wayne (Jimmy Cupp).
What’s the big reveal? Not the purchase of a Porsche, or a secret affair or a surprise second family where someone needs a kidney. Roy shares that he is a woman trapped in a man’s body and would like to begin the process to transition to his true self.
What could very easily be soap opera, isn’t. Anderson’s play is very smart, packed with insight and emotion as well as being tremendously amusing. What is so refreshing is that nothing seems forced or scholastic. Humor in the play comes from the honesty of the situation. We get sarcasm, anger, tears and, most importantly, a reminder that the power of love can often be unshakable even after an emotional earthquake.
The play is well served by ACT and its cast, under the watchful eye of director Brian Sheldon. Each actor shines, each fully committed, ready to tell this modern day tale with simple candor that allows the evening to wash clean and clear.
Angehr and Baker manage with difficult roles to find the delicate balance of despair, relief and hope in Roy’s struggle. Thankfully both actors allow the playwright’s humor to happen with a realistic effortlessness. Heffner and Cupp as the children also shine as they take their places at opposite ends of acceptance. Both are blessed with great comic timing as they deliver a number of humorous monologues. Bill Douglas as Roy’s befuddled, but concerned boss, David Rook as the clueless Reverend Muncie, Debra Burger as Roy’s all-knowing grandma and Margaret King and Ken Goldfarb as Roy’s aging parents round out the cast beautifully.
With an issue-driven play (whoops, label!) such as this, we can assume the playwright has an agenda. And of course she has. What writer doesn’t? It is quite clear that Anderson wanted to tell a story about the power and strength of love — and maybe to try to rid the world of labels that limit it. And what’s more important than that?