'The Commons of Pensacola' review: Intriguing Blythe Danner, Sarah Jessica Parker

Emmy and Tony award winner Blythe Danner, left, Emmy and Tony award winner Blythe Danner, left, and Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Sarah Jessica Parker in "The Commons of Pensacola", a new play by Amanda Peet, directed by MTC's award-winning artistic director Lynne Meadow. Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

advertisement | advertise on newsday

REVIEW

There are several interesting plays lurking in the folds and crannies of "The Commons of Pensacola," the first script by actress Amanda Peet. And wouldn't it be a pleasure to watch Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner interact in one of those?

Instead, the gifted women are doing their admirable best to make something fresh out of another imagining of family fallout after a Madoff-like crime and disgrace.

And with three supposed jokes about flatulence (poor Danner), the admirable women are also doing what they can to keep their dignity.

Danner is Judith, the fragile but still elegant and earthy Jewish wife, banished to a furnished one-bedroom condo in Pensacola, Fla., after her husband went to jail and the courts went after their riches. Parker plays Becca, the caring but unmoored middle-aged daughter, a long-struggling actress, who brings her younger boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David) -- a self- described "guerrilla journalist" -- to visit mom in her sobering new circumstances.

Instead of digging into the complexities of such women, Peet's 80-minute tragicomedy concentrates on push-button plot mechanics more convenient than convincing. Threat of a big tropical storm fizzles into a power outage that sparks a tangential betrayal and gives Peet a chance to get rid of extraneous characters -- including Judith's estranged, successful daughter (Ali Marsh), her bright, nubile teenager daughter (Zoe Levin) and the ethically challenged journalist.

There is a Thanksgiving that never happens and a health emergency that isn't and sibling rivalry that suggests more than it delivers. And, of course, there is a Big Secret.

On the positive side, Peet (who endearingly claims she wrote the play to give herself a challenging role but decided instead to cast a bigger star) delivers tight, natural dialogue and characters whose unpleasant streaks are far more intriguing than the story they're in.

Santo Loquasto's set captures the sad, strained jollity in the Florida retirement flat with its faded palm-tree furniture. Lynne Meadow, founding artistic director of the theater, is choosy about her own projects and clearly sees a mother and daughter here she yearns to explore. In 1995, Danner and Parker respectively -- and so memorably -- played a neglected wife and her husband's adored dog in A.R. Gurney's "Sylvia" at this theater. Too bad we can't keep them there and try again.


WHAT "The Commons of Pensacola"

WHERE Manhattan Theatre Club, 131 W. 55th St.

INFO $95; 212-239-6200; manhattantheatreclub.com.

BOTTOM LINE Danner and Parker are more intriguing than the script.

You also may be interested in: