Burbank’s Colony Theatre opens its 40th Season with Michelle Kholos Brooks’ entertaining if overly familiar Family Planning, and while the World Premiere comedy’s couple of battling 70something ex-spouses will likely appeal to the Colony’s post-retirement-age regulars, particularly as brought to life by TV’s venerable Bruce Weitz and Christina Pickles, the coming year’s bolder later selections appear more apt to revitalize the Colony’s aging subscriber base than its Season 40 opener.

familyPlanning2 Brooks’ sitcom-ready premise has 40ish marrieds Sidney (Dee Ann Newkirk) and Michael (Jack Sundmacher) suddenly forced to share their comfortable Westchester County home with Sidney’s divorced parents (Pickles as Diane and Weitz as Larry), and though the younger couple would like nothing better than to send Mom and Dad packing, there is one major hitch.

Sidney and Michael are renters, and their landlords—none other than Diane and Larry—are not about to give up the home they shared for twenty years simply because they haven’t lived there … or together … for the past twenty.

Though the question of exactly who is parenting whom gives Brooks’ play some serious underpinnings, for the most part Family Planning offers little more than what network comedies have been giving audiences in weekly 22-minute segments (or dramedies in 44-minute episodes) for decades.

This is not to say that Brooks isn’t a talented writer (she is) or that Cameron Watson’s direction isn’t assured (it is) or that the assembled ensemble aren’t doing crackerjack work (they are).

familyPlanning4 Indeed there are a number of very good reasons to check out Family Planning, beginning with 1980s TV faves Weitz (Hill Street Blues) and Pickles (St. Elsewhere), still going strong in their 70s. Not only do the stage-and-screen vets invest their roles with decades of their characters’ shared history (and believable love-hate friction) but Brooks awards them the play’s best sequence, one that has the duo getting steadily—and credibly—drunker as they relive the best and worst of lives lived under this very roof. (When was the last time you got to see a pair of 70somethings given this kind of acting showcase or witnessed major stage time devoted to a couple of old lovers who’ve still got it in them to create romantic and even sexual sparks?)

familyPlanning5 Another Family Planning plus are real-life marrieds Sundmacher and Newkirk, who make the most of bringing put-upon adult children of childish adults to sympathetic three-dimensional life.

Last but not least is Family Planning’s absolutely gorgeous design—David Potts’ handsomely conceived and furnished suburban living room (properties design and set dressing by John McElveney); Jared A. Sayeg’s stunningly varied lighting design, one that evokes late summer bursting into fall colors; sound designer Steven Cahill’s pitch-perfect effects and melodic, scene-linking original music; costume design whiz Kate Bergh’s character-apt outfits; and Orlando de la Paz’s lovely scenic art.

Production stage manager Dale Alan Cook gets bonus points for his behind the scenes (and post-performance) role in Family Planing, though far be it from this reviewer to reveal a surprise that others have spoiled.

To the Colony Theatre’s credit, a trio of upcoming West Coast Premieres appear to promise considerably more than Family Planning: What I Learned In Paris’s look back at Atlanta’s first African-American mayor as seen through the eyes of playwright extraordinaire Pearl Cleage, Handle With Care’s youth-oriented romcom between Israeli and American (with Grandma thrown in for the older Colony set) by Jason Odell Williams, and the heady blend of Civil War history and contemporary drama of Catherine Bush’s The Road To Appomattox, all of which sound exciting indeed.

In the meantime, there are pleasures to be had in Family Planning, though perhaps not as many as might have been hoped for in a landmark season opener.

Colony Theatre, 555 North Third Street, Burbank. Through August 10. Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00, Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 and Sundays at 2:00. Reservations: 818 558-7000X15

–Steven Stanley
July 17, 2104
Photos: Michael Lamont

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