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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
All the Days

I moved two states away so that I could have my own life, be my own human being[...]You think I pushed you away. Ha. I didn't push you. I ran. — Miranda
all the days
Photo: Carolyn Aaron and Stephanie Janssen (photo credit T. Charles Erickson)
The mother from Hell has long been a staple of world theater from Medea to Momma Rose. But sometimes it's the mother residing in that more familiar place we might call familial purgatory who makes life a real trial for those around her. With that, I sincerely hope that playwright Sharyn Rothstein's self-ascribed dramedy is autobiographical only in the sense that it deals with the attempt by a desperate daughter to blast free from her mother's debilitating orbit.

Actually Ruth, as played by a very convincing Carolyn Aaron, isn't all that terrible a person — at least she isn't underneath the often lacerating barbs that initially define her. It's the almost constant torrent from Ruth's mouth that fuels the joke-driven All the Days now having its world premiere at the McCarter Theater Center.

If Ruth is apt to find fault and call out the presumed flaws and failures of family members and all others who she encounters, her thirty-eight year old daughter Miranda (a by-nerves-rattled Stephanie Janssen) may be the biggest cross for her to bear.Never mind that she is converting to Christianity even as her son Jared (a very fine young Matthew Kuenne) is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah."It's only a phase," is the oft used reaction to Miranda from Ruth's sister Monica (Leslie Ayvazian best remembered for her one-woman show Nine Armenians and here a standout with the one-liners). This episodic play opens in Ruth's Long Island kitchen where Miranda has come to be supportive snf to invite Ruth to come back to Philadelphia with her for the upcoming bar mitzvah. Though the family is as expert at embracing guilt and remorse as they are at begrudgingly acknowledging their inseparable family ties, it remains to be seen if the ties that bind will also tear them apart as they are reunited following the recent sudden death of Ruth's son David.

Bravo to designer Daniel Ostling for the setting that cleverly expands from Ruth's small kitchen into the interior of Miranda's home. In no time flat, Miranda's patient-to-a-fault boyfriend Stewbert (Justin Hagan) has arranged a blind date for the sixty year-old, overweight, diabetic, self-deprecating Ruth with his best friend Baptiste (Raphael Nash Thompson) a suave and good-looking herbalist who also happens to be black.

Romance isn't exactly what Ruth was expecting but all things are possible within the utterly capricious and ultimately implausible situations that arise with each rise and fall of the curtain. The plot congeals or rather coagulates with the arrival Ruth's estranged ex-husband Del (the always terrific Ron Orbach) an unpredictable personality, or to quote Ruth "a deadbeat." Our empathy for Ruth increases fitfully as the jokes and the bickering and belittling are replaced with the reasons for the failure of her marriage and with more about David's death. But real feelings emerge just a little too late to make up for the superficial preceding banter.

Under Emily Mann's sit-com paced direction the actors are commendable interpreters of Rothstein's characters, all of whom are eventually decreed to be humanized. This play's title doesn't tell us much or even mean very much. Perhaps You Shouldn't Know From Such a Mother would have worked better, but that might have prompted me to say that you shouldn't know from such a play.

Rothstein's previous play By the Water was a commendable kitchen sink drama with real people not stick figures. All the Days takes a disconcerting detour by substituting potentially real people for stock characters. There is a strong and pervading feeling throughout the play that we are the audience at a live taping of a TV sitcom. All the Days takes quite a bit of patience to find out if Ruth really has it right that "optimism is a form of mental disorder."

All the Days by Sharyn Rothstein
Directed by Emily Mann
Cast: Stephanie Janssen (Miranda Blaser), Caroline Aaron (Ruth Zweigman), Leslie Ayvazian (Monica Tobin), Justin Hagan (Stewbert Mullen), Matthew Kuenne (Jared Blaser), Raphael Nash Thompson (Baptiste Wright), Ron Orbach (Delmore Zweigman)
Set Design: Daniel Ostling
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Original Music and Sound Design: Mark Bennett
Production Stage Manager Cheryl Mintz
Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes including intermission
Berlind Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center, 91 University Place
Tickets: $25.00 - $92.50.
Performances: Performances are most tues/weds/thurs at 7:30p.m., Fridays at 8p.m., Saturdays at 3 and 8, Sundays at 2p.m.
From: 04/29 Opened 05/06/16 Ends 05/29/16
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/06/16
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