A Thorn In The Family Paw

by Dale Reynolds

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday June 15, 2016

Katie Adler and Nick McDow
Katie Adler and Nick McDow  

Family dramas can certainly be exciting fare for those of us who have them, or had them, or wanted 'em. "A Thorn in the Family Paw" by Garry Michael Kluger (a clever title, indeed) is an epic look at one family, the Goodman's, through a half-century of activity in the same house.

Act One, Scene One, Thanksgiving, 1945, just after 24-year-old Eddie Goodman (Nick McDow) has been demobilized from the army and he and newly-pregnant wife, Susie (Katie Adler), have settled into the family home in Queens, New York City. They have a delightful relationship, with Susie acerbic and Eddie quiescent. We learn of their particular needs and find admiration in their love for each other.

Scene Two finds them in 1969 with two grown children, Samantha "Sam" (Heather Alyse Becker) and Jamie (Ian Lerch), squabbling still, but supportive of Jamie's need to out himself to his parents as a gay man. This does not go down well with Papa, although Ma is quietly accepting of this monumental admission (for the day). Rage on both sides of the generational split is in full swing, along with fights over the still-raging Vietnam War.

Act Two, Scene One finds us in 1980, with Reagan elected, and the children scattered, although the same discontents within the family unit are magnified, with the parents separated and the daughter unhappily making do with her own marital problems. Jamie lives in San Francisco with a significant other.

Scene Two lands us twelve years later, 1992, as the older Goodman's (Julia Silverman and George Tovar) are to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary, added with the sad tradition of unveiling the tombstone a year after someone who has not survived. We meet Sam's daughter, Emily (played by the amazing Adler), who has the same spunk as her grandmother.

Kluger's fine, emotionally-wrought play has been well-honed in the detailing direction of Arden Teresa Lewis, with all the actors showing the effects of strong handling: no false moves; everything organic and spontaneous-looking. McDow, Adler, Becker, Lerch, Silverman and Tovar give extraordinary performances, allowing for a tearful and upbeat ending.

And they perform it on a lovely, wide set of the Goodman's home (kudos to Jeff G. Rack, with what are now antiques looking new for their day), fine period costumes, and a fun sound design by Kluger. It's also of interest that the playwright refreshingly never mentions the word "Jewish," letting their cultural and religious practices speak for themselves.

This play should -- and will -- have a longer life, making mockery of those who decry the concept of the "old fashioned" play, with a clear beginning, middle and end, supported by a strong wit, allowing for well-crafted dramatic arguments supporting old-fashioned-values.

"A Thorn in the Family Paw" plays through June 26 at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd West, Los Angeles 90068. For information or tickets, call 323-851-7977 or visit theatrewest.org/onstage/a-thorn-in-the-family-paw/.