nytheatre.com review by Akia Squitieri
August 16, 2007
The Program, by Michele Aldin, follows a Brooklyn-bred Italian family thrown into the witness protection program as they struggle with the different levels of "Program integration," learning how to interact with their new surroundings...The Suburbs! They thwart their assigned FBI agent "Uncle Joe" who is trying to help them adjust at every turn. Infighting and unhappiness ensue until the family nearly falls apart.
Dad Noah is thrilled at their new surroundings, but Mom Priscilla feels inferior to the high class PTA moms and turns to the bottle. Daughter Gwen has fallen in love with the high school sports hunk "Sip" and might spill the beans. Chip, the youngest, now only wants to be called Thor and is convinced he is a super hero. Uncle Joe is just trying to keep them all "normal." Soon they are being investigated by Child Welfare, the neighbors are gossiping, and Gwen wants to elope like her Sicilian grandmother.
There is A LOT going on in the story but somehow without a lot of action. The story goes from dialogue to narration by Gwen, who is occasionally and strangely accompanied by Uncle Joe who assists in acting out the stories. At times this storytelling gets to be not only confusing but annoying. Having Gwen as narrator is a smart and interesting way to help the story along, however the transitions from real-time to narration are not fluid.
Cara Samantha Scherker as Gwen is quite endearing and really shines in this cast, as she goes for realism and sincerity, which makes her character empathetic and the most interesting to watch. As Noah, Kurt Elftmann is underused as an actor. The role of Noah is a wisely understated but fun role, which should have been further developed for the sake of the play and actor.
Neurotic and overbearing Priscilla is played by Wende O'Reilly, who struggles with a lot of the dialogue and the one liners, but really shines when her character is exposed as lost and alone. Her monologue is a highlight of the play. Ben Sumrall doubles roles, playing a spirited and over-the-top Chip and gawky awkwardness as Gwen's boyfriend Sip. The uptight straight man, "Uncle Joe," is played with focused skill by Bruce Barton.
Elysa Marden's direction unfortunately goes too often for the obvious and slapstick, and many times the jokes fall flat. Her direction is most potently felt when the action veers more to the sincere and less stereotypical. The pacing and intention of the show never loses focus, but often the interactions feel forced and the constant "going for laughs" gets a bit tedious.
The lighting design by Deborah Constantine is effective and quite good, and the quick-paced and fun sound design (no credit) was a great aspect of this production.
The Program has a few truly funny moments and surprisingly a few touching ones, but unfortunately doesn't touch on any ground that hasn't been explored in mafia comedies such as Married to the Mob or Analyze This. This play has a lot of potential, but unfortunately overlooks it own sparkling moments by seeming to try too hard to go for the cheap laughs.