The Port Tobacco Players return to the stage this weekend for a six-show, two-weekend stand of Michael McKeever's "Open Season." This adult comedy has a small cast with a big message.
Perhaps baby boomers in the audience will see a little of themselves in the actors portraying the Dupre family.
Forget that this family is made up of legendary stage and screen stars and a former child actor, or that they call their parents by first names rather than Mom and Dad, and that they are very rich. At their core, the Dupres are simply a family -- whose members are trying to come to terms with who they are, how they got to be those people and racing to make amends for faults, missteps and forgotten words along the way. It has been said that it's never too late to say "I love you." In life, as in "Open Season," that is not always the case.
The play opens with Mallory Dupre (played by Bridget O'Neill) alone on stage, in front of the curtain, presenting the title role in the Greek tragedy "Medea" in its opening performance. Then the curtain rises on Mallory's Manhattan townhouse, where her son Christian agonizingly waits for his mother to awaken. For when she does, he must inform her that The Washington Post has bashed her performance as Queen Medea, guaranteeing a short run of her latest theatrical endeavor.
Christian (impishly likable in this performance by Richard Levinson) is his mother's right-hand man -- make that, boy. The gentle stoop of his shoulders tells us he's a "Momma's Boy," worrying about every detail of his mother's life to the neglect of his own.
Addressing her as "Mallory," Christian hands her the paper and slinks away. He has even more bad news, as one of Mallory's many exes, but not Christian's father, is set to arrive to discuss a business deal. This meeting is derailed by the arrival of Mallory's father, Edmund Dupre (played by Thom Harris).
Edmund and Mallory immediately begin to exchange barbs, in a manner that suggests they are doing so because that's what fathers and daughters do at their respective ages. They bicker and shout about everything, but nothing really important. Edmund, a long-retired legend of Hollywood and Broadway, is an aged womanizer with seven wives in his past. Christian plays name games with his grandfather, betting (correctly) that Edmund can't remember all his wives' names.
But Edmund comes with troubling news. He is broke and asks to move in with his daughter. More bickering ensues to the point where Edmund clutches his chest, fearing he is having a heart attack. Mallory assumes he's acting, but as the lights go down, the three are racing to a hospital for help.
Four weeks later, Edmund -- now weakened -- has been taken into Mallory's home to recuperate from what turns out to have been a real heart attack. He has gone through five nurses in those weeks, his hands wandering more than they should whenever a hired "in-home health care worker" is too near to ignore. Regardless, Mallory and Christian have hired yet another caretaker for Edmund, Alice (played by Angela Watson), who seems to relish the atmosphere of working among the rich and famous. She is, however, tough enough to handle Edmund's come-ons and instead lends him a good ear to talk to and a shoulder to lean on -- things his daughter and grandson had never provided.
You start pulling for the old guy during his recovery as he watches his daughter attempt yet another return to Broadway -- regardless of what a newspaper critic thinks of her talents -- and takes note of his grandson's life, which is all too entwined with his mother. Words of wisdom pour from his mouth and into Alice's attentive ears. In an attempt to boost his spirits, Mallory urges Edmund to stage his Broadway comeback.
Three more weeks down the road, Edmund -- now stronger and urged on by his caretaker and friend, Alice -- announces his return to the stage. Unfortunately for Mallory, it's in the same play -- "King Lear" -- she plans as her vehicle for a return to stardom. In the play she has found her soul mate, actor Tony O'Neill (played by Darren W. Longley), whose youth leaves Christian aghast, while Edmund, the seen-it-all senior, plays down the whole affair.
Edmund, who the audience senses has a heart of gold, starts dispensing his wisdom to those who will listen. He even has advice for Tony, his daughter's "boy toy" -- as the newspaper calls him. Alice learns from Edmund why Christian gave up his career to look after his then thrice-divorced mother after watching her years earlier be devastated by the strains of her life. After a heart-to-heart talk with his granddad, Christian realizes he needs "dramas" of his own and decides to move to the opposite side of the country. Edmund, and his wisdom, is coming through for everyone.
It is not until Christian tells his mother he is leaving that she, for the first time, tells her son she loves him. Sadly, this is after the death of Edmund, to whom she can only whisper heavenward that she loves him, too.
"Open Season" is a warm, tenderly funny look at family, in this case one whose members somehow find -- no matter how hard they try to dismiss or ignore it -- that love is what can be counted on and matters most.
The Port Tobacco Players present McKeever's story in a wonderfully acted, easily understood production. (The playwright will be in the audience Saturday.) Its beautiful, lush set was designed by John Merritt. Directed by Randy Geck and produced by Lorraine Treanor, this is a must-see production.
"Open House" runs at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. The play continues with performances at 8 p.m. Sept. 24 and 25 and a 3 p.m. matinee Sept. 26. Tickets are $15; seniors and youths, $12. Reservations are recommended. Charles County Government Center Auditorium, 200 Baltimore St., La Plata. 301-932-6819.