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An Act of Love

David Landsberg's sitcom-like family comedy would play a lot better in one's living room. logo
Hedy Burress, Susan Sullivan, and Timothy Hornor
in An Act of Love
(© Cheryl Games)
The world premiere production of David Landsberg's mildly entertaining family comedy, An Act of Love, now at the Falcon Theatre, is most likely to appeal to sitcom lovers rather than theater enthusiasts. As the house lights go down, a brief, slightly jaunty jingle sets up a Pavlovian response for the audience to expect light TV comedy -- and in the momentary darkness one can easily envision the opening montage with shots of mom, son, and daughter as they wreck havoc on each other's lives. And once the show starts, it's clear that the only things missing are the cameras and the light-up "Applause" sign overhead.

As the play begins, the exasperated Peter Sandusky (Timothy Hornor, merely competent), an insurance salesman in his early 30s with a penchant for neatness and order, is slumping forward on his couch (on Keith Mitchell's fine set). He's shaking his head in his hands over the antics of Julia (Hedy Burress), his tattooed, wild child younger sister who is always getting into trouble.

Soon, more trouble enters in the form of Mother (Susan Sullivan), a self-centered, flamboyant actress who is about to learn a valuable lesson from her control-freak of a son about how to act like she actually cares about her kids. Predictably, the show centers on Peter's ongoing efforts to control everyone around him, Julia's wacky problems as the black sheep of the family, Mother's zany lifestyle and her blindness to anything but her own reflection, and what happens when she takes on her greatest acting challenge yet.

Casey Stangl's listless direction doesn't help matters. She allows the pace to drag, her blocking is fairly pedestrian, and she keeps performances at an airy, superficial level. And that's too bad because she's got some wonderful talent to work with. Burress is the kind of actress whose light cannot be hidden under the bushel of an underdeveloped character; even though she spends most of her time as Julia being frustrated with her family and her life, it's easy to tell there is so much more there than is being used.

Beth Kennedy as Peter's blind date, Maureen -- who arrives at Peter's ultra-tidy house dressed in a burka, just for the experience of it -- is a gifted comedic actress who gives us a pretty clear picture of Maureen, even though she's draped in black from head to toe and all that's visible are her huge expressive eyes. She tackles the often bland dialogue with grace and good timing, and her adeptness at physical comedy elevates otherwise mundane scenes.

Sullivan, looking tall and thin as a straw in Kathy Kann's costumes, chews her way through her low-calorie scenes, looking for nourishment and finding little. Added moments of comedy come from Jay Harik as cab driver Vanoush, and Lovensky Jean-Baptiste as Julia's boyfriend, Darwin.

Despite all their efforts, An Act of Love would play a lot better in your living room.

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