They’re billing it as the Fab Four, and it is, sort of. In Middletown, playing through April 21 at Bucks County Playhouse, you have four very familiar faces from classic TV and film. They’re pros, they have great faces, they hit off one another well, and they make this play-in-development worth seeing.
Left to right, as they lined up for this staged reading, were Adrian Zmed (Romano from T.J. Hooker and also Johnny Nogerelli in Grease 2), Didi Conn (famous as Frenchy in Grease and Grease 2, singer of “Beauty School Dropout,” as well as a turn as Joyce, girlfriend of Ralph Malph in Happy Days), Cindy Williams (Shirley, of course, in Laverne & Shirley), and Don Most (Ralph Malph himself, and much else). Produced by GFour Productions, Middletown is on a development tour. It was just in Las Vegas, and after Bucks County, it’s off to the Delaware Theatre Company (May 28-June 2), where Sally Struthers steps in for Williams.
Dan Clancy’s play follows two couples (left to right), Tom and Peg Hogan, and Dot and Don Abrams, through 33 years of friendship. We see how the couples met (ordinary rather than cute), first the women, then the guys, who, despite differences in education and class, find much in common (both fought in Vietnam). They get through life together. The play is good-natured rather than sentimental. Its success as a full-blown play will depend on how action is joined to the sprightly language, and how the stage and lighting design help drive the tale.
These four are one-liner machines. Dot tells Peg that as women, “We’re taught to please, and the only way to do that is to lie a lot.” Dot sits next to Tom and lets him buy her a drink. “But I don’t want you to think this is going to be a motel evening,” she says. Tom: “Not what I was thinking.” Dot: “Is this a gay bar or something?” Much repartee has a choric feeling:
Don: What did I have last time we ate here?
The rest: Chicken parm with ziti!
Don: You sure?
Dot: You’re still wearing it.
When they hit the parenting years, the four machine-gun together: “Drive. Drive. Pick up. Drive. Drive. Pick up. Drive.”
That good nature endures. As a senior, Dot says, “I look into the mirror and my mother’s face shows up.” Don says, “Before, when I dropped something, I used to pick it up. Now I look down and think, ‘Do I really need it?’ ”
Zmed is the baby-faced, faintly rueful, sensitive husband; Williams is great as the hardheaded schoolteacher, and Most has fun with his Republican character. But the real revelation is Conn as Peg. She still has that Kewpie-doll voice and face, an air of piercing vulnerability: You want to hold and protect her. Much suffering is coming, with marital troubles, terrible losses, the indignities of age and mortality. Peg seems the least tough of the four, the nearest to collapse. And yet … well, enough said.