The Old Man's Friend | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Old Man's Friend 

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The Old Man's Friend, Victory Gardens Theater. How could the nuanced, funny second half of this play share so much as a title with its doltish, contrived beginning? Perhaps playwright James Sherman wrote a flawless one-act about an adult daughter's reconciliation with her dying father, then felt he had to complete the evening by adding a padded prequel alternating awkward exposition with faux-Talmudic philosophizing. Whatever the explanation, the second act is so clearly the work of a mature playwright we can only wonder why he made us wait.

Bernie Landis's unsentimental and occasionally brilliant performance as the father makes even the first act worth watching. But as the daughter, Lily Shaw starts off so artificial--simultaneously forbearing and implacable--that falsity seems the point: her veneer must crack to reveal the real person. Instead she simply returns after intermission to do a lovely turn as the rueful daughter discovering her father's value just as time runs out. Jacob Zachar makes a delightfully unaffected son, but neither Larry Neumann Jr. nor Eric Kramer can do much with their superfluous roles.

Their fraternal interaction recalls the charged exchanges of an Arthur Miller play--but Sherman is no Arthur Miller. He is an able chronicler of family reconciliation, however, a role largely disdained since Tolstoy announced the sameness of happy families. If Sherman would only weave into the second act the bit of background now hidden in the first, The Old Man's Friend might be a terrific contribution to this otherwise neglected literature.


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