Peter Perhonis' "Stopover on Whitney Street" consists of three autobiographical one-act plays and an epilogue about what it was like to grow up with a domineering Greek immigrant father, a self-effacing but wise mother and a rebellious brother. What it was like, apparently, was a TV sitcom.
All of the playlets, which opened Sunday evening at the New Playwrights' Theatre, take place in the kitchen, and while they detail different crises in the family, they follow essentially the same pattern. Vasili, the father, goes on a rampage over slights real or imagined. The sons, George and Gus, alternately try to stand up to him. Irene, the mother, pours oil on the troubled waters. Vasili is eventually revealed to have a heart.
Perhonis has worked his way up through the ranks of the New Playwrights' Theatre, which did an earlier version of one of the plays last season. But while the author has expanded his bill of fare, he has not necessarily improved it. This is essentially glib, predictable writing that so far undershoots its goal of being heartwarming and colorful as to be mildly irritating. Consider some of the punchlines:
* George, the writer-to-be, to Vasili: "Why didn't you throw up when I was born?"
* Vasili, reminded that everybody can't be Greek: "They can if they try hard enough."
* Vasili, furious at one of his sons: "I'll put in him the cellar." Irene: "We don't have a cellar." Vasili: "Oh!"
"Stopover" might prove more tolerable in a production that was willing to call a sitcom a sitcom. But director Harry Bagdasian wants to probe for the deeper, human values in the scripts, which is akin to probing skim milk. Despite the volatileness of this family, the staging is unaccountably static, with the characters all but rooted to the linoleum floor. Just because Perhonis is writing about Greeks, however, is no reason to portray them as statues.
Sam Baum, as older brother who bucks his father's wishes by marrying a non-Greek and escapes his father's bluster by going into the armed services, gives the most credible performance. Seymour Horowitz has a sloshy accent, presumably Greek, and the grace of a bull in a china shop as Vasili, but he fails to make the patriarch remotely likable. Barbara Rappaport, a talented actress, is miscast by a good 20 years as the wife, while Buzz Roddy is stuck with all the usual cliche's of the sensitive writer as young man.
Given a knob, I would have turned the whole thing off. STOPOVER ON WHITNEY STREET. By Peter Perhonis. Directed by Harry Bagdasian; set, Lewis Folden; costumes, Jane Schloss Phelan; lighting, Jim Albert Hobbs. With Buzz Roddy, Sam Baum, Barbara Rappaport, Seymour Horowitz, Peggy Pridemore. At the New Playwrights' Theatre through June 5.