Conor Donovan and Harry Zittel in Privilege(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Conor Donovan and Harry Zittel in Privilege
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
At the beginning of Paul Weitz's new play at Second Stage Theatre, we meet two kids -- brothers -- in their family's New York apartment. They are about to embark on a weekend trip to the island of Antigua. Rather than preparing to leave in a flurry of excitement, one complains that he's bored and the other languidly lies in his bed, more interested in listening to music than anything else. Meet the children of Privilege.

The siblings are amusing and, despite the age gap between them -- one is 12 and the other is 16 -- we can sense their affection for each other. Despite the fact that they are obviously spoiled, these are not unlikable characters. But what at first appears to be a light comedy about rich kids in New York soon turns into a bittersweet coming-of-age story. The play contains all of the good aspects of a sitcom: clearly defined characters, clever quips that bounce between the characters like pinballs, and the sudden revelation of a startling conflict. In this case, we soon learn that the boys' father has just been arrested for insider trading.

It's here that the play deepens and the laughs give way to gasps. This happens in a breathtaking scene that occurs after the family has been forced to move to a much smaller apartment. The kids' father (Bob Saget), out on bail and in the midst of a court fight, tries to buck them up by showing them how to make their own beds. (Previously, this was always done by their housekeeper). What had begun as a comedy becomes a tragedy as the father fails miserably and suffers a breakdown in front of the boys.

Saget's performance in the breakdown scene and throughout the play is a revelation, but it's a supporting performance. The real stars of the show are the kids. Conor Donovan plays the younger brother, Charlie, as a precocious and serious child. His dry, understated line readings make the comedy funnier and the drama all the more devastating. As his older brother Porter, Harry Zittel offers a more conventional take on a spoiled teenager, but it is very effective in its verisimilitude. As the boys' mother, the excellent Carolyn McCormick is like peanut brittle: sweet and hard. The appealing Florencia Lozano has been cast in the play's weakest role, that of the housekeeper, and is forced to give some of its most heavy-handed speeches. This is the only serious flaw in a show that is directed by Peter Askin with genuine sympathy for the characters.

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The cast of Snake in Fridge(Photo © Ken Roberts)
The cast of Snake in Fridge
(Photo © Ken Roberts)
It Doesn't Get Much Worse Than This

This has not been a good season for Canadian plays in New York. We happen to know that there is great work being done up north, but the good stuff is not being staged here. Instead, we're getting such embarrassments as We're Still Hot, previously panned in this column, and now Brad Fraser's Snake in Fridge, one of the worst plays we've seen all year.

Let us be brief: Snake in Fridge is an undercooked soup of campy humor laced with sex. It's the story of a bunch of twentysomethings sharing a house together in Toronto. A deranged landlord, a stripper, a hustler, and other weird characters live in a house that may be haunted. You've never seen actors trying so hard with such awful material.

With so many good plays opening at the end of the theater season, why in the world would anyone choose to see this one? We had to, but you don't.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]