In “A Heap of Livin’,” playwright Elliot Shoenman surveys the minefield of family interactions, in this case between a widowed folksinger and his two very different daughters. In that, this undemanding comedy-drama recalls such populist crowd-pleasers as “On Golden Pond” and “Marvin’s Room,” at least in intent.
Ramblin’ Harry Roe (Lawrence Pressman) has seen his share of Pete Seeger-esque trials and travails, but now he’s declining. His two children, both whimsically named after John Steinbeck novels -- longtime caregiver Pearl (Didi Conn), antagonistic historical biographer Eden (Jayne Brook) -- have quite the dilemma before them.
Director Mark L. Taylor does his best to keep the all-too-familiar scenario crackling, as does a valiant cast. Pressman, incapable of a false note, is especially effective pitted against Brook’s slow-burn expertise. Conn’s quirky charm is undiminished by time, and Salli Saffioti brings sensitivity to Eden’s interview subject, a 9/11 widow whose underwritten reason for being here inadvertently exposes what’s lacking in Shoenman’s script.
A rabble-rousing social agitator who wasn’t there for his children (or blacklisted wife, as we learn) is not a bad idea, yet the topical and personal issues as presented leave us awash in awkwardly arranged conflicts, precocious dialogue and some flat-out banalities. “A Heap of Livin’” has promise, but a serious rethink is required to bring it beyond post-“Hallmark Hall of Fame” status.