Scalpel sharp tongues in this hospital play.

The family drama and the Jewish family drama are two very separate things and Joshua Kaplan’s well-done VISITING HOURS is a superb example of the latter.

Linda Stein, matriarch and crazy-maker of the family has hours left to live. She lay in a coma awaiting something she could never accomplish in life… silence. One by one, we meet a group of characters – her family – odd enough to be humorous but well-depicted enough to be real.

The play is summed up in the line: “sometimes families who love each other too much resemble families that don’t love each other at all” [or something like that].

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Photo by JMa&e

Scenic Designer Frank Oliva turned Theaterlab’s fascinating white-space is a most convincing hospital room and waiting area and then director Dina Vovsi primed a group of perfectly written characters upon it.

Leading the dysfunctional Semites is Michael Grew as son and caregiver, Jonah. Grew showed us years of pain and indecision, love and hate, and exhaustion from a life donated to his mother, with vigor. Each stiletto sharp one-liner danced the fine line between wanting release and needing his mommy. His posture told a story as well as his words. Beyond an inappropriate costume for a partner in a law firm, Grew was a rooting force throughout. Richarda Abrams understood she was the Greek chorus and delivered each line with an open-heart and ample wit. Amy Gaipa was masterful as Meredith, the damaged dysfunctional sister, trying to make amends with the silent mother without admitting any form of defeat; and Dan Grimaldi gave a restrained humble showing as the ex-husband whose love was still strong (and left only out of self-preservation). His gentle delivery and open-heart was refreshing amid the caustic banter. On that level, Kaplan didn’t make us pity or feel sad for the mother (a comatose Maureen Shannon). He didn’t pull punches or mince words in his depiction of this domineering character.

The supporting cast members were also noteworthy. Adam Bemis’ young doctor was superb as the eyes of the audience in weathering the ax-fall wit of people who love to hear themselves talk. Karen Tse Lee gave us tons of humor in her perfect depiction of a new age spiritualist. But the real brilliance was seen in Joel Stigliano, as Meredith’s ultra-loving quiet-like-a-saint husband.  Stigliano had the play’s moral and meaningful lines and delivered them with great power while never raising so much as a whisker.

Joshua Kaplan should be praised for not selling-out and making a hallmark card style play. He gave us what a family of strong intelligence and major dysfunction would act like from start to finish. By the nods and sighs from the sold-out, totally engaged crowd, he hit home.

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