Family Secrets, now playing at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre, was a long-running hit for playwright-actress Sherry Glaser off-Broadway—in fact, the longest-running one-woman show in its history. There has to be a reason for that; and for most audience members, it will probably be in the familiarity of the characters portrayed: distinctively Jewish, yet still universal enough to make us nod in recognition.
For me, frankly, the familiar was a little too much so; Glaser’s characters often come across as stereotypes. It’s interesting to watch Sarasota actress Carolyn Michel don or doff a wig and a pair of glasses, slip into her costumes onstage and transform into the five family members Glaser has created out of somewhat autobiographical material. There are amusing moments, but seldom deep ones, and no big revelations to take us out of our comfort zones.
The play opens with Michel as Mort, the father, an accountant talking on the phone to his wayward daughter, Fern (whom we’ll meet later). Mort, a guy from the Bronx transplanted to California, is used to his simple workaday life and can’t cotton to Fern’s New Age-y ways or her lesbian lover. But he’s still willing to help pay her bills.
Fern is not Mort’s only cross to bear. We next meet Bev, Mort’s wife, who sports a blond wig, oversized glasses and mental health issues. Bev lost her mother early in life and is still screwed up by it, leading to her attempts to be a “perfect mother” and, eventually, to a nervous breakdown. Mort calls her “crazy,” but in what is probably the most affecting scene of the play, Bev does finally manage to come to terms with her anger and her loss—she even starts going to law school.
Fern, predictably, is the wild child who has to experiment with everything, including going through childbirth at home. Michel gives her all to the agonies and ecstasies of labor, although the scene goes on too long.
Perhaps the least successful or believable character is next; that’s Sandra, Bev and Mort’s youngest, a teen who in 10 minutes or so exhibits just about every typical teen problem, from drug use to bulimia to unprotected sex. She’s more a compendium than a unique character. Michel is much more at home with the show’s final family member, Grandma Rose, who reaches out directly to the audience in her tale of finding second love late in life despite the familiar woes of aging.
Michel, directed by Howard J. Millman, attacks the whole piece with enthusiasm and affection, and the audience responds to that. Just don’t expect any earth-shaking “secrets” from Family Secrets, which continues through Aug. 1. Call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org for tickets.