Some laughs, but mostly sadness and tears best describes emotions felt after seeing “Marty’s Back In Town”, a two act play by playwright Norman Shabel, running from Friday, March 24 through Sunday, April 2 at The Studio at Mizner Park in Boca Raton.
The play was also performed for the last two weeks at the Michael-Ann Russell Jewish Community Center in North Miami Beach.
Despite the title of the play, the character “Marty” (actor James A. Skiba) is not seen in the first act, but dominates the stage in act two. Shabel describes the play as the story of a dysfunctional Jewish family based in Manhattan in the early 1980s. To some extent, the playwright feels the play expresses much of the hostility felt between members of his family.
Set in the apartment of Marty’s brother Ronald (Ben Prayz), an established attorney with wife Joan (Leslie Kandel), son Daniel (Christian Cooper), and daughter Lex (Emma McAvoy), Ronald hosts his mother “Mama” (Christine Chavers) and sister Susan (Francine Birns) for an informal social get together in their living room.
Ronald, Susan and Mama reminisce about their lives over the past thirty years and center on the absence of Marty being in the core of the family. Marty moved with his wife Chris (Katherine Kanitsch) away from Manhattan to the west coast of the country ten years ago and have not been in contact with the family since. .
Marty’s Back In Town cast Ben Prayz, Christine Chavers, Francine Birns, Christian Cooper, Leslie Kandel
Mama, Ronald, Susan each took turns criticizing Marty for abandoning them, trading quips about how horrible Marty was as a brother, son, and sister with Mama lamenting over and over “Marty is a total mishigana” (a Yiddish word meaning a crazy person) as a response to the many inquiries by Ronald and Susan on why Marty lacked compassion for them.
Along with reminiscing about Marty’s bad behavior, the family also attacks patriarch Sam (Peter W. Galman) for physically attacking “Mama’ and being mentally ill. Sam went to prison for many years, but surprises the family by returning home at the end of act one.
Act two has Marty and Chris coming to visit Ronald unexpectedly due to Marty’s poor health. The audience learns of many factors that lead to a new interpretation from Marty’s point of view of the family dynamics that lead to a surprising climax and dramatic ending to the play.
Standing out are actors Prayz and Skiba for their delivery of humorous lines along with expressing much anger and sadness concerning how their relationship dissolved over the years.
Two scenes between the brothers are memorable. The first was the fistfight between Marty and Ronald which had both expressing deep hostilities that allowed the other characters to reevaluate their relationships to Marty.
The second was the long sentimental scene in which Marty expressed to Ronald why he was not really the “black sheep” of the family as Ronald often referenced in describing Marty to his family.
Also convincing was Chavers as the kvetching Mama who was so harsh and extreme in her comments about her two sons and daughter yet so funny, especially with her facial expressions when discussing her mishigana husband as well as Marty.
Act one played out like a situation comedy in which Mama. Ronald and Susan all delivered humorous lines about who was the worst child in the family, sounding like a script from the television comedy series “Mama’s Family”, with a Jewish family rather than the Southern family in the television series.
Marty’s Back In Town Ronald Confronts Marty Ben Prayz, James Skiba & Cast