By John Quinn
Critics, by nature, are not a creative lot. Thus we go poking through theater programs and press releases looking for information we can crib, like lazy school kids, and turn into useful copy. How thoughtful of Travis W. Walter, director of Londos D’Arrigo’s family comedy “Spreading It Around” to include some quotes on the nature of family. Opening night was St. Patrick’s Day, so I was drawn to this observation by that fiery Fabian, George Bernard Shaw: “A happy family is but an earlier heaven.” Elegantly put, but the Draytons in “Spreading It Around” are not a happy family and there’s going to be hell to pay.
Angie Drayton (Mary Robin Roth) and her late husband bought a home in a Florida retirement community. She shares common maladies with the other “useless old ponies” – boredom and unappreciative children. But they also share an asset – a lot of money stashed away in carefully managed financial accounts. She talks her next door neighbor Martin Wheeler (Michael Gillespie) into forming the Spending It Now Foundation. The pair will collect donations from their similarly well-off but neglected neighbors and donate money directly to people in need. It’s a win-win situation. The old folks feel useful again, and the money won’t be inherited by the shiftless next generation.
An off-handed comment by Angie’s financial advisor alerts her son, Larry (Eric Gutman), that his mother is liquidating assets at a go-for-broke rate. He hops a plane for Florida with his taste-challenged, shopaholic wife, Traci “with an ‘i'” (Janet Caine), to find out what’s going on. They reach the wrong conclusion, but what is one to think upon finding the SIN Foundation stationary emblazoned with the motto, “Seniors doing it together while we still can?” Actually, the younger generation might eventually accept senior sexual antics, but not the loss of their anticipated inheritance. Larry hires a pedantic psychiatrist, Dr. Roger Krapinsky (Loren Bass), to declare Angie “non compos mentis” in a bid to seize guardianship of her money. Angie, though, is a tough cookie and will not go quietly.
The title is derived from the old adage that neither money nor manure is any good unless you spread it around. What’s really spread around at Meadow Brook is sacksful of fun. This is a very traditional, broad comedy. Director Walter and his ensemble unabashedly play big and bold with a torrent of one-line zingers. The performances fill the stage as aptly as Brian Kessler’s detailed set, which takes advantage of the space to add a realistic kitchen behind a swinging door and a hallway leading to the bedrooms. Portions of Act II, scene 1 wobble slightly over the line into burlesque, but the action settles down nicely as it sets up the surprising climax.
While the entire cast turns in admirable performances, special note must be made of Mary Robin Roth’s portrayal of Angie Drayton, the heart and soul of “Spreading It Around.” The character as written is charming; Roth makes her adorable. The second act monologue in which Angie reads the riot act to her scheming son and his vapid wife brought a well-deserved round of applause. There’s satisfaction in seeing good triumph over evil, even when the devils are family.
Perhaps the young Anne Frank (thanks again, Travis W.) summed it up best: “Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.”
‘Spreading It Around’
Meadow Brook Theatre, 207 Wilson Hall, Rochester. Wednesday-Sunday through April 8. 112 minutes. $24-39. 248-377-3300. http://www.mbtheatre.com