BOCA - Barrington Stage Company
Promoted as a “comedy” and defined more specifically by the playwright as “a comedy of short plays”, “Boca”, in its world premiere at Barrington Stage Company, sadly, is neither. Written by Jessica Provenz, commissioned by BSC and directed by BSC’s Julie Boyd, “Boca”’ is a dozen short skits loosely tied together by senseless and largely humorless plotting. The show’s appeal rests in its characters, a diverse and eccentric group of a dozen retired residents in a gated community, Royal Palm Polo Club in Boca Raton, Florida, and the precisely cast and wonderfully talented ensemble of six BSC regulars, each playing two parts.
Serious topics inform “Boca”: marriage, community, friendship, and even death, all of which get mostly trite treatment in a meandering narrative - peppered with retread ethnic jokes - that involves plot devices like: sugar-substitute Stevia, a decayed tooth necklace and ongoing feud about a Tesla vs a Porsche. A wife disgruntled with her husband's 57th wedding anniversary gift goes MIA on a Thelma and Louise road trip with the condo’s aging hippie yoga instructor. Another resident, who decides to run for condo president (which recalls a subplot of “Seinfeld” from the 1990s where Jerry’s father moves to Florida and runs for condo board), makes her husband (who has “chronic flatulence” but still a “great ass”), in the event of her death, the stakes of a poker game between her best friends.
In another skit, a widow holds a widower at gunpoint to force his affections. (With gun violence at an all-time national high, how is forcing somebody to do anything at the end of a gun funny? “Boca” isn’t written to be black-comedy in the Quentin Tarantino mode.) All of these situations conclude in a clumsily staged, absurd scene involving keeping a dead body preserved on dry ice. (And this isn’t theatre of the absurd. It’s not farce, either. It’s not even mediocre sit-com.)
Without going into details, the low point of “Boca” comes in a skit about male impotence. The highpoints occur at the script’s few moments that legitimately reveal the pathos that underpins comedy. The always reliable BSC favorite Debra Jo Rupp elevates material to her level of skill in a wonderful monologue that opens Act 2; she reveals what emotionally motivates the retired kindergarten teacher from Connecticut to run for condo president. (For those old enough to remember puppeteer Shari Lewis, in one of the script’s genuinely inspired bursts of humor, Rupp's character uses a hand puppet to reproach condo residents inattentive to her campaign speech.) Similarly, BSC veteran Robert Zuckerman mines his material to movingly reveal youthful events that make the octogenarian, whose machismo identity relies on his saffron Porsche, really tick.
The sets are bright, the costumes are colorful, the lighting is sunny. But, these fully produced stage elements can’t make an unfunny script, still in workshop mode, shine. “Boca”, like cloudy, overcast days during a Florida vacation is disappointing - at best.