Sunset Park is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, but it also sounds like the name of a nursing home, doesn’t it? A place to spend the sunset years of one’s evaporating life? This analogy doesn’t come out of a clear blue sky. Marley Sims’ and Elliot Shoenman’s play Sunset Park finds two self-involved adult children, Carol and Roger, wrangling over what to do with their elderly mother, Evelyn, and the old apartment she’s living in that could be an investment coup for them. And in a flashback that parallels the principal story, the young Evelyn and her blue-collar husband are struggling to ease his sick and aging crank of a father into a seniors facility.
Sounds like a scream. But Sunset Park is written as a comedy, albeit with serious undertones. A current production of the play at Scripps Ranch Theatre under the direction of Eric Poppick lays the comedy on thick, especially in the first act. It isn’t consistently successful. Carm Greco, apparently channeling Mama Sophia from “The Golden Girls,” overplays her hand, and, like Brenda Adelman as Carol, beats the New Yawk inflections and mannerisms to death. Charles Peters is more measured and convincing as well-to-do son Roger, and – in the parallel story – Kristin Woodburn (as young Evelyn), David Ryan Gutierrez (as her husband Benny) and Haig Koshkarian (playing the dying father in law) accredit themselves well.
The revelations of Act 2 bring gravitas to the proceedings, though even when Evelyn recounts the pain of coping with a deteriorating, abusive inlaw, followed by the sudden death of her husband at only 42 years old, you still get the feeling that Carol and Roger would choose a “home” for their mother over too much inconvenience. Co-playwrights Sims and Shoenman may be best known for their “Home Improvement” TV scripts, a fact that makes the sensitivity of this play more impressive when compared to that Tim Allen nonsense. In other words, Sunset Park does address difficult and sadly all-too-relevant issues in American family life, and generally speaking, it does so thoughtfully. At Scripps Ranch Theatre, the execution isn’t always there, but the spirit is willing and the realities are unapologetic.
David L. Coddon is theater critic for San Diego CityBeat