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DRAMA : Just When They Thought It Was Safe to Enjoy Life Again . . . : Long-awaited freedom proves elusive for Mom and Dad in 'Alone Together,' a fast-paced production of domestic disarray.

August 05, 1993|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Forget all that sentimental mush about empty nests.

For George and Helene Butler, the long-suffering parents in Lawrence Roman's "Alone Together," the departure of their youngest son for college is cause for joyful celebration.

Some momentary nostalgic pangs, perhaps, but then the champagne flows, romantic trysts by the fireplace beckon, and George and Helene begin looking forward to a life of serene self-fulfillment.

It's a luxury for which they've paid their dues.

After 30 years of acquitting themselves--maybe not perfectly, but at least honorably--of their parental responsibilities, George (Nicholas Pryor) proudly unveils his "tactical situation" map showing the geographic dispersion of their three sons. As he does so, Helene (Nancy Dussault) triumphantly proclaims, "The crisis clinic is closed."

It's the kind of happy ending to which every parent aspires.

But in this lighthearted comedy, engagingly staged by the Pasadena Playhouse at Santa Barbara's Lobero Theatre, the Butlers' tranquillity proves short-lived.

Just when the they thought it was safe to have a life again, their two older sons descend like the harpies of ancient Greek drama to once again entangle George and Helene in the tribulations and self-sacrifices of parenthood.

It's a predicament as timely as it is entertaining. Between the extended economic downturn and ever-increasing marital failure rates, the return of grown children to the family roost is no longer a statistical anomaly.

And the swelling ranks of their exhausted parents will undoubtedly find a rallying cry in Helene's ultimate declaration, "It isn't fair! I've done my time!"

They'll find unqualified self-assurance here as well. The correctness of George and Helene's outrage is a given in this play, and certainly nothing occurs to call it into question. Their wayward offspring are clearly defined freeloading misfits--a mathematical genius unable to cope with the practical world (precisely rendered by Maury Ginsberg as a budding Christopher Lloyd-type space case) and an incurable philanderer (a suitably swaggering Spencer Garrett) recently dumped by his wife.

Adding to the domestic disarray is the free-spirited, scantily clad bimbo (Shawn Modrell), who moves in at the long-distance invitation of the remaining son (John Allee).

Director David Galligan keeps the tone light and the pacing lively throughout--his staging is well suited to Roman's snappy banter. That isn't an unqualified plus, however; some of the delivery (particularly Dussault's) is riddled with the kind of momentary pauses that play better to laugh tracks than live audiences.

And the over-reliance on sitcom style hyperbole ("We didn't raise sons . . . we raised homing pigeons") sometimes leaves us wishing for something honest instead of something clever.

But there's a heartfelt issue at the core of "Alone Together," best articulated in Dussault's impressively impassioned eruption scene where she finally concludes that "The mommy machine is all worn out."

You may not remember a single line from "Alone Together" the day after you've seen it. But its comically rendered chaos is bound to strike an agreeable chord in mommy and daddy machines everywhere.

* WHERE AND WHEN

ALONE TOGETHER: Performed through Aug. 15 at the Lobero Theatre, 33 East Canon Perdido St., Santa Barbara. Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinees Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $31.50. Call (800) 883-PLAY for reservations or further information.

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