Marty is over the hill—or is he? He has retired from a life of teaching English to high school students, and he wants to know: what comes next? What’s on the other side of that frightening hill? What in the world is he supposed to do with himself, other than drive his loving wife crazy?
That’s the simple premise of “A Red Plaid Shirt,” opening the 45th season of Stage Door Players as a worldwide premiere. Canadian playwright Michael G. Wilmot has given us a downhill retirement voyage that’s hilarious and heartwarming. The opening night audience adored it, and it’s hard to imagine anyone who wouldn’t.
At the insistence of Deb, his wife, Marty decides to take up a hobby. What will it be? Woodworking, or his latest wild hair: motorcycling? He and his buddy Fred, who has taken up the hobby of hypochondria after watching too many medical dramas on TV, set out together for the woodworking class. Their interplay is reminiscent of Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton, TV’s best buds from “Honeymooners.” Marty and Fred are the biggest tools in the wood shop. But what is their secret project? And does Deb have one of her own?
Michael Strauss is a wonderful Marty, adding his knack for physical comedy to a zinger-driven script. Suzanne Jordan Roush is a revelation as Deb. The best comedy always takes a comic foil, a “straight man” or woman, and breathes real life into it. That’s exactly what Ms. Roush does. She holds her own during every stage moment.
As Fred, Steve Hudson, a walking medical checkup, stretches out a one-joke premise and keeps it funny—and by the end, something more. Eileen Koteles rounds out a winning cast as Gladys, who cherishes dreams of visiting Venice, germ exposure notwithstanding.
If the play is a homage to the classic sitcom, it’s the sitcom in mint condition—Ralph and Ed, Lucy and Ricky, Rob and Laura. The formula can’t fail, as long as it’s well-written. It certainly is here, particularly for a brand new, never-seen play. But beyond the punch lines, the show takes a sharp turn into a poignant conclusion we never saw coming. Act Two, the bigger challenge for most playwrights, is letter-perfect this time, and immensely satisfying on an emotional level. We forecast a busy future across American stages for this romp. And we’ll watch anything with these four actors in it.
Director Robert Egizio, the “cast-whisperer,” helps his players breathe real life into their roles. Once again, Chuck Welcome excels with his set design of not one but four different sets. The talent of J.D. Williams with lighting design shines. Additional technical assistance is provided by Rial Ellsworth (Sound Design), Jim Alford (Costume Design), Kathy Ellsworth (Properties Design), and AJ Stevenson and Bill Byrne, Stage Manager and Assistant Stage Manager, respectively.
“A Red Plaid Shirt” continues through Oct. 14 with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. There are additional Thursday performances on Oct. 4 and 10 at 8 p.m. Stage Door Players is located in the North DeKalb Cultural Arts Center, 5339 Chamblee-Dunwoody Rd. For more information, call 770-396-1727 or visit stagedoorplayers.net.