Today's college grads are entering the worst job market since, gee, 1974 -- the year Judi Ann Mason wrote Livin' Fat, about a poor but hard-working family whose college-educated son can't find anything better than janitorial work. So the New Horizon Theater's current production is as timely as it is funny, enlivened further by the oh-so-campy nods to 1970s pop culture.
Mason was still an undergrad when she penned her first play. The script reflects the heavy-handedness and light-heartedness of youth, plus the comic sensibilities that would be more fully developed in her later career in sitcoms and films (e.g., Good Times, Sister Act 2).
The story is at heart a morality tale: three generations living together, bound by strong religious faith and love. But that faith is sorely tested when the son retrieves a packet of money dropped by white guys robbing the bank where he is employed. He wants to use that money to make his family happy. But how does that jibe with his parents' deep sense of right and wrong?
Under the direction of Eileen J. Morris, who has run several productions of Livin' Fat around the country, New Horizon's take breezes along with laughs and heart-tugs in all the right places. Smoky-voiced Chrystal Bates revels in the unglamorous role of the grandmother -- the powerful matriarch, but played for grins. Leslie "Ezra" Smith shows comedic chops as the son, with David Conley going for broad visual humor as his pal, and perky Ashley Coney as his hip teen-age sister. Kim El and Kevin Brown handle the "heavy lifting" as overworked and, not surprisingly, nearly humorless parents.
Besides the solid cast, kudos go to costume designer Elizabeth "Miss Betty" Pendleton for the best outfit I've seen since Frenchy Fuqua took off his goldfish shoes.
The story has its bumps and surprises. It doesn't always go where you expect. But love, of course, triumphs in the end. And you get some good laughs in the bargain.
Livin' Fat continues through June 7. New Horizon Theater at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Ave., East Liberty. 412-421-0773 or email@example.com
- Photo courtesy of Richena Brockinson.
- That '70s show: Leslie "Ezra" Smith (left), Ashley Coney (center) and David Conley in New Horizon's Livin' Fat.