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Good As New

Even before Peter Hedges new play Good As New opened at the MCC there were stories about a movie version. A movie would certainly expand the action and perhaps flesh out the gray areas surrounding the three characters of the stage production.

Two of the characters, Jan (Laura Esterman), and Dennis, (John Spencer), are literally moving into the gray zone--that is, the zone of graying hair, sagging chins and flagging marital passion. The third, their sixteen year-old daughter Maggie, (Jennifer Dundas), is in that idealistic limbo where issues are never gray but always absolute. Thus she clings as desperately to the pedestal on which she's placed mom and dad, as she does to the wheel of the car she's just learned to drive. But as she'll undoubtedly become a more confidently in-control driver, her determination to control her image of a wonderfully cool mom and dad only serves to expose the weak seams of the fabric in which this basically functional family unit is wrapped. Her relentless disapproval of Jan's why not-everybody's doing it facelift leads to inadvertently revealed secrets and lies.

Secrets and lies--whether to air them or keep them buried--is what this play is all about. The device of the face lift as a metaphor for a make over tool to erase the wrinkles that have ruffled one's once smooth lives is an interesting one. It deserves, if not a play of its own, a fuller exploration than the numerous funny one-liners it gets here. As for the teenager as the spokesperson for absolute truth-telling, this too is a good idea with the potential of an enduring fictional icon shades of Holden Caulfield. Unfortunately, Maggie while as savvy and bright as Holden, lacks his charm and enduring poignancy. Her own secrets and lies show her to be more in need of a shrink than her parents and will strike many members of the audience as phony and inappropriate.

Despite these flaws, Hedges does convey a picture of three people who genuinely love each other and has given them enough good lines to make for an enjoyable evening. The actors too are satisfactory. I'm a long-standing fan of Laura Esterman's and she does not disappoint here. Jennifer Dundas comes close to having you believe she's only sixteen and I look forward to seeing her in the forthcoming The Little Foxes . John Spencer gives a creditable reading of Dennis. As directed by Brian Mertes, all the characters have you root for them as readers have rooted for the countless families who have walked through that timeless magazine feature "Can This Marriage Be Saved?" Rob Odorisio's two sets are okay individually but somewhat too disjointed. The abstract car set is serviceable enough but somehow smacks of even more bare-bones staged vehicular scenes in amateur plays. The more fully-furnished, very warm bedroom of the second act only underscores this dichotomy.

Watch for our review of another new play about a family relationship ( mother, daughter--no dad), also written by a novelist/playwright, Not Waving. ©right March 1997, Elyse Sommer, CurtainUp.

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