by Hugh Hunter
If Leo Durocher had not come up with “Nice guys finish last,” Philly playwright Bruce Graham would have had to invent it. A master of the one-liner himself, the aphorism sums up Graham’s point of view in the offbeat comedy, “Any Given Monday” (2010), now running at Stagecrafters.
Directed by Barbara D. Mills, the play is about the “education” of Lenny (Joe Herman), a very civilized man. When his wife Risa (Jen Allegra) walks out of their 24-year marriage to have a fling with a hotshot realtor, Lenny even carries her suitcase to the car. But his best friend and his daughter then team up to show Lenny the error of his ways.
Mickey, his Monday Night Football drinking buddy, is a Septa worker who spends his workdays patrolling the subterranean world of the Philadelphia subway tunnels. The tawdry nature of what he sees down there spurs him to rejoice in taking a grim, politically incorrect view of human nature, and he urges Lenny to get tough.
Sarah (Julie Roberts), the family daughter, backs Mickey up. A college philosophy major, she delivers soliloquies in which she reasons people are rotten, and when we are on the receiving end of a misdeed, we should embrace our anger and lash out with cleansing, intelligent violence
The show profits from the stage set of Maria Nappo, a middle class drawing room that is well appointed yet strangely uncomfortable at the same time. Even in his abandonment, marshmallow Lenny still complies with Risa’s directive not to put his feet on the coffee table.
When act one ends with a shocking development, the steady costume changes help underscore shifting family relations (Joan Blake, chief designer). Young Sarah, in particular, changes her colorful getup every time she appears on stage, highlighting her emotional distress.
“Any Given Monday” is full of wit — Graham did stand-up in a previous life — and Mickey is the play’s beating heart. Actor Lenny Grossman makes the most of his chances, and you delight in Mickey’s animated presence. But can anyone so full of genial vitality really believe in the venom he heaps on the homeless, rich whites and poor blacks, nuns and priests?
Bruce Graham is a prolific local playwright. His “Coyote on a Fence” played at Stagecrafters some years ago, an excellent piece of political theater that shocked one into an awareness of the ironic interplay between evil, capital punishment and the news media.
In contrast, “Any Given Monday” is merely naughty and oddly consonant with our current strain of populism that celebrates anger as virtue. Give Graham and the production team kudos for witty one-liners and a clever plot with unsuspecting twists that hold your attention. But any claim that the show has something to say about the “ends justifying the means” conundrum is pretentious.
Stagecrafters is located at 8130 Germantown Ave. “Any Given Monday” will run through Feb 19. For reservations call 215-247-9913, or visit on-line at thestagecrafters.org