Center Stage at Jewish Community Center has mounted a first-class revival of Israel Horovitz's popular, appealing play, Park Your Car In Harvard Yard. An elegantly composed interplay for two actors, it is both heartwarming and funny.
Horovitz is one of our most prolific playwrights, a fact that dissuades me from trying to sound like an expert. About 30 years ago, theater expert John Lahr gave a lecture at SUNY Geneseo on new voices in American drama, all of them African American, and the most important Ed Bullins.
When I asked him about Israel Horovitz, Lahr responded that I shouldn't bluff because Horovitz was no longer writing plays. Horovitz's response, when I met him at the premiere of one of his four new plays the next season, was unprintable. But his best response is the more than 30 plays he's created since, including this one almost 20 years later.
The setup is simple; the plot gets complex. In East Gloucester, Massachusetts, Jacob Brackish, an irascible, retired teacher, is required by failing health to employ a housekeeper in order to continue living alone in his house. Kathleen, the young widow who takes the job, turns out to be a former student whose late husband as well as her father and mother and several siblings and friends were all failed by Brackish in his English or music appreciation courses.
A revenge plot? No, it's funnier and more humane than that. The amusingly named Brackish is, in fact, a much more complicated part of Kathleen's life, and both have their secrets. The changing nature and tone of their relationship develops, like one of the pieces that Brackish plays on his radio, into a rich, pleasing duet.
By the way, I didn't find a program credit on the music played, but it has become a standard in-joke to play a Beastie Boys number when Kathleen changes the classical music station to annoy Brackish with loud rock wildness. Adam Horovitz, the Beastie Boys' guitarist, is the playwright's son.
The title refers to the stereotypical Boston accent, which pronounces none of its six R's. Kerry Young's more precisely accurate rural Massachusetts accent perfectly punctuates her dry, comic performance as a resentful, plebeian woman with unexpected mental agility and articulate anger. She builds Kathleen's character-growth with appealing skill.
Fred Nuernberg adopts a differently dry tone of voice, more nasal than his usual classical delivery, for Brackish. Elderly, overeducated (a doctorate to teach high school), and Jewish as well as Harvard-educated, his New England speech necessarily has a more complicated sound. I don't think the role as tricky as hers, but Nuernberg inhabits it totally and naturally. And they play together like a longstanding artistic team.
Sets, costumes, lighting, and other production details are all nicely handled. But the really impressive work in this wholly enjoyable production is David Runzo's impeccable direction and the admirable interaction of the two actors.
Park Your Car In Harvard Yard by Israel Horovitz, directed by David Runzo, plays at JCC Center Stage, 1200 Edgewood Avenue, Thursdays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through May 15. Tix: $20 to $22. 461-2000, ext. 235.
After this show, you might check out a less well wrought, but showier tour-de-force at Buffalo's Studio Arena Theatre. Stones In His Pocketsby Marie Jones often has 12 characters onstage at once --- English, Irish, Americans, men, women, and children --- all played by two virtuoso actors. 800-77-STAGE.