"Odd Jobs," which had its American premiere Monday night at Round House Theatre, is a modest, gentle comedy. Set in a depressed area of Canada, it tells the story of a young couple and the elderly woman neighbor toward whom they come to feel protective. The playwright, Frank Moher, brings in references to the problems of modern marriage (woman as breadwinner), economic hard times, the alienation of the Quebecois etc. But like "Driving Miss Daisy," "Odd Jobs" isn't really about the social issues it attempts to address. In both plays, the real subject is the affection possible between unlikely people.
Moher is a minimalist. His play's effectiveness is in its preciseness of observation, its graceful appreciation of basic human decency. Tim, an unemployed factory worker, finds enough sense of self in the yardwork he does for Mrs. Phipps to make him want to stay behind when his wife gets a good job that involves a move to another city. Things are also complicated by his growing sense of responsibility to the old lady, who has fugue states in which she wanders down to the freeway at night. Ginette, the wife, also becomes fond of her. The three of them struggle to work out the problems their mutual affection has landed them in.
This sort of piece depends a lot on the charm and skill of its players. In the Round House production, directed by Jeff Davis, all three characters are well cast. As Mrs. Phipps, Vivienne Shub is strong-willed and funny without falling into cute feistiness. Jane Beard, a wonderfully straightforward actress, is an appealing Ginette. In the most difficult role, Tim, Marty Lodge conveys the confusion and occasional anger of a man who wants to do right but can't figure out how.
"Odd Jobs" offers perhaps too nice a view of life. All of the characters mean well. Tim's willingness to stay behind while Ginette moves on to her new job suggests at the very least a deeply troubled marriage, but Tim and Ginette don't actually have any problems that a little goodwill and compromise won't solve. Still, Moher isn't sentimental or dishonest: He never goes for cheap emotional effects, and he doesn't try to make the ending happier than it is. For him, human virtue isn't grandiose and all-winning; it's quiet, flawed by the limitations of imagination and generosity. But even in its imperfection, he finds it beautiful.
Odd Jobs, by Frank Moher. Directed by Jeff Davis. Set, Joseph B. Musumeci Jr.; costumes, Rosemary Pardee; lights, Thomas F. Donahue; sound, Neil McFadden. With Vivienne Shub, Marty Lodge and Jane Beard. At Round House Theatre, 12210 Bushey Dr., Silver Spring, through Feb. 17.