Social Security, now playing at South Park Theatre, is a hack job. Andrew Bergman's script is one of the crummiest farces ever to scroll out of a typewriter. This play doesn't cater to the lowest common denominator; it is the lowest common denominator. Bergman's story is basically an anxious Jewish Frasier episode, with a surprise ending so predictable, you may be surprised you predicted it.
But hey, it makes people laugh. Judging by last Sunday's sold-out matinee, it makes a lot of people laugh. As in, tears were dabbed from eyes. So who's to judge?
David and Barbara Kahn are trendy art dealers. Trudy and Martin Heyman are boring traditionalists. Barbara and Trudy are sisters, and their mother is old and crabby. Meanwhile, Trudy's daughter is having international threesomes at college, and she blames Barbara. Eventually, a famous artist named Maurice Koenig shows up. It's 1986 in New York, and the characters machine-gun the audience with one-liners and sex jokes.
The best part of South Park's Social Security is director Rick Campbell's set, which combines bourgeois elegance with '80s kitsch. (I imagine Keith Haring's first loft looking exactly like this.) The second-best part of the show is Cindy Swanson, who is funny, emotive and charismatic as Barbara. If the play "belongs" to anyone, it's Barbara, who must juggle her mother, sister and husband all at once, so Swanson's performance is a relief. It's also nice to see a sharp, professional woman as a character in a screwball farce, usually the stomping ground of talking blowup dolls.
Otherwise, Social Security is a clunky snoozer, played as if the actors memorized their lines just that afternoon. If you've never watched prime-time television, I'm sure the jokes are very funny, but the actors don't seem to get their punch lines. Bergman's slipshod humor is hardly worth the effort, which makes the experience stranger still — you are hoping that, at some point, the show will attain mediocrity.
Yet the audience laughed, heartily, and that's all a comic can hope for. You might say that Social Security is the opposite of a tree falling in the forest: If a hack writes a play, and everybody enjoys it, isn't that enough?