Brad Hauskins elicited the largest laughs during Friday's performance of Spreading It Around at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, starting with the moment he first walked onstage with his frozen-hip shuffle. His psychologist character Dr. Ward doesn't actually appear until the middle of the second act of this comedy, which concerns the efforts of the widow Angie to share her wealth (and that of her fellow retirees) with those in need, rather than leaving it to their ungrateful children. But with little stage time, Hauskins squeezes out every ounce of comic possibility from his role, relishing his awkward pauses, and dryly delivering his lines with the slightly high-pitched, mildly shaky voice stereotypical of the elder person he's portraying.
Beyond Hauskins' moments on stage, though, I laughed little during the play, and when I did, I merely mustered a chuckle. The audience, however, tittered a lot throughout the show, apparently amused by the clichéd jokes about the elderly that I didn't find funny. (The tagline for Angie's philanthropic non-profit is "Seniors doing it together while they still can." Ugh.) Playwright Londos D'Arrigo's script does have a certain sitcom flair to it ... though "flair" is being too kind. The humor is flat, most of the characters are one-dimensional (particularly Angie's greedy son and daughter-in-law, who arrive to scheme the retired woman out of her money), and there are too many impossibilities that require suspension of disbelief. D'Arrigo has created a world where oranges grow from blossoms into full-blown, ready-to-eat fruit overnight, kind and gracious parents somehow raise wicked children, and a cast of colorful characters - far more interesting than the ones on-stage - are never actually seen, only described.
It doesn't help that director M. Seth Reines plays up the sitcom-y feel, even starting the show off with the theme song from The Golden Girls. (It should be said, however, that while this tune does foretell the situation-comedy nature of the play, it also makes clear that we're in Florida retirement community without blatantly saying so.) Reines positions almost all of the action - er ... inaction - front and center, rather than adding interest through more varied placements of his actors. And as characters tell stories about intriguing events, such as the widows relentlessly chasing after Angie's partner-in-charity-work Martin, we must endure hearing these tales without being allowed to witness them. This might as well be Spreading It Around: The Concert Version.
Oh, how the actors give it a good go, though. Lora Adams makes for a charming, poised Angie, and offers amusing evidence of "senior speak." ("I was just doing my Zoom-ba.") It is unfortunate, though, that while she's good in the role, Adams is required to play someone so many years older than she actually is. Bob Summers' Martin is a likable fellow, well-paired with Adams for his amiable, patient nature. Steve Lasiter displays more spunk and energy as Angie's son, Larry, than I think I've seen from him since his 2009 turn as Dr. Frank N. Furter in The Rocky Horror Show, though his selfish-child characterization matches the one-note characteristics of a sitcom character. Liz Millea, on the other hand, manages to rise above her role's single dimension, serving up delicious, self-centered moxie as Larry's wife Traci.
Still, the cast must deal with the hand it's dealt, which, here, isn't a strong one. There's not much that's exciting about the show's plot, which climaxes almost exactly as expected, and even the added details are awkward. There's a point here in which Martin, referring to the living-room mess left by Larry and Traci, says, "It looks like a hurricane went through here!" However, this "mess" is nothing more than two shopping bags and seven or so Starbucks coffee cups, which are placed rather neatly, in upright positions, throughout the center of the room. (That room, however, is impressive, with set designer Susan G. Holgersson providing a row of pillared archways leading to the lanai, and Florida-style pastel colors, textures, and wicker furniture.)
The production itself is a similar tidy mess, with not enough captivating content, and a presentation too neatly staged to be involving. In discussing the name for Angie's non-profit - which is also the title of the show - one of the characters says, "Money's like manure. It does no good unless you're spreading it around." The play may be about one of those "it"s, but it kind of smells like the other.
Spreading It Around runs at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse (1828 Third Avenue, Rock Island) through June 9, and tickets and information are available by calling (309)786-7733 extension 2 or visiting Circa21.com.