The Commons of Pensacola

  • Our critic's rating:
    November 1, 2013
    Review by:
    Tulis McCall

    Review by Tulis McCall

    This one was sliding all over the game board for me. Understandable because it is a story about a family, and who among us is part of a family that is, shall we say, pristine. The Commons of Pensacola. “Where a friendly staff is on hand to meet all your needs” is really the last stop on the exile for Judith (Blythe Danner) who has been stripped of all her worldly assets on account of her husband, a money guy, bilked a ton of cash out of his clients. Judith seems to have escaped with the stylish clothes on her back and an attitude that snubs its nose at most of the world. It is Thanksgiving, and her 43-years old daughter Becca (Sarah Jessica Parker) and 29 year old beau Gabe (Michael Stahl-David) have just landed into town. They are soon joined by Lizzy (Zoe Levin), Becca’s neice who is sneaking into town to be with Judith and Becca instead of with her mother Ali (Ali Marsh) from whom Jutith is estranged. Everyone is all small talk and bon mots until the chink in the armor of family unity begin to show up.

    For starters, Becca can afford to be away from New York for Thanksgiving because she is unemployed and has nothing else to do, except perhaps to babysit her agent’s children. Judith’s health is not all it is cracked up to be. As well, she has taken on an aide, Lorena (Nilaja Sun) who is an expense Judith cannot afford. Gabe and Becca have a secret all their own: they want to create a documentary about Judith and family who were left behind to mop up the shame of what the patriarch visited on his clients and by extension on them.

    Add to this: infidelity, insecurity, betrayal and the question: What did Judith know and when did she know it? – And you have a boatload of possibilities.

    Actually there are so many possibilities that we get lost in them. While the play leans toward suspicion about Judith’s possible complicity, Ms. Peet does not let this question lead the parade. So we are left like children on Christmas sorting through the wrapping paper to find the toys. Just when we think we have located one, we discover another very nearby that grabs our attention.

    Judith’s fall from grace does not achieve lift-off. There are a few mentions about the way they used to live, but her present digs are decent enough. As if to make up for substance we listen to one too many unoriginal jokes about aging: farting, floaters, alzheimers, and wrinkles – made all the more odd because Ms. Danner appears to be fit as a fiddle. The infidelity can be seen coming from miles away. The final scene between Danner and Parker is stunning in many ways (nice be reminded that Parker has stage chops and is way more than a pretty face), but it springs up out of thin air. There is little to support the mother-daughter argument in the preceding text, and that is too bad.

    The concluding scene as well, appears to come out of nowhere, and the closing line offers a signpost for what I think Peet intended to convey.

    This is a well-intentioned play, supported by some very fine performance that could use the services of a dramaturge.

    (Tulis McCall)

    "Engrossing and watchable, even when some of the groundwork isn’t carefully laid for the more dramatic developments."
    Charles Isherwood for New York Times

    "Couldn’t anybody tell the rookie author that fart jokes just aren’t that funny?"
    Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

    "The play's central situation is so rare, it's hard to identify with it."
    Robert Feldberg for The Record

    "While 'Commons' fizzles in its final showdown and the ending feels unresolved, this production smooths over the bumps.
    David Cote for Time Out New York

    "Small-scale drama veined with caustic comedy, a work both topical and personal that succeeds on its own refreshingly modest terms."
    David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

    "While it doesn’t realize its ambitions, it’s not half bad in the hands of the super cast."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - New York Post - The Record - Hollywood Reporter - Variety