Sealed for Freshness
nytheatre.com review by Richard Hinojosa
February 23, 2007
Most of us have stashed leftovers away in Tupperware and forgotten about them. These things get pushed to the back of the fridge only be to discovered after far too long, growing hair and smelling like the trash stain left on the sidewalk in front of a Chinese takeout joint. Metaphorically, this is premise of Doug Stone's funny new comedy, Sealed for Freshness. Five women come together for a Tupperware party and find out what sort of secrets each has sealed under their respective plastic lids.
The show is set in 1968 suburbia. Bonnie, a housewife in her early 40s, is hosting a Tupperware party for her friend and neighbor Jean, the neighborhood Tupperware sales rep. Jean is very excited about this particular party because their new neighbor Diane is also a sales rep and is very high up on the Tupperware totem pole. Jean has invited her very pregnant and very mean sister Sinclair and another neighbor, a spacey young newlywed named Tracy Ann. Before the party begins, Bonnie and her husband Richard get into a little tiff which sort of sets Bonnie's mood for the rest of the play, and this eventually leads her to her transformation. What becomes immediately apparent is the mounting tension in the room. All but one of these women live their lives underneath a thick coat of sugar. But as that they begin drinking Manhattans (normally a no-no at Tupperware parties) that sugar coating begins to melt away and their soft, gooey centers become exposed.
Stone's dialogue is crisp and very funny. He's irreverent in an adult contemporary sort of way. By that I mean safe. For the most part he has only one character working to build the tension—the mean one named Sinclair. She's the one lifting up all the plastic lids to expose what's rotting. But anyone this mean must be unhappy with her life. Nobody ever points that out. One character tells her off, but no one pokes holes in her arguments and aggression. In fact, she just stands up and admits what her problem is. Essentially the "bad guy" never gets her comeuppance and that left me feeling unsatisfied.
Stone's dialogue is filled with laughs, sure, but the more sensitive parts are ineffective. The dramatic moments simply lack emotional punch. Also, I could not help but feel that much of the dialogue struck me as a man writing for women. Perhaps it's the fart jokes. But I think it has more to with the emotional-surface skimming. Still, it's a comedy, so perhaps Stone had no intention of delving any further than he does. Stone also directs his own work and he does a good job. The pace is perfect and there is not a single joke that falls between the cracks. He also makes good use of the long, shallow stage and his moments of high action really grab attention.
The cast is excellent. I really enjoyed J.J. Van Name's performance as the jaded, mean mother of four, Sinclair. She brings this natural, nonchalant evilness to her character that made the whole show for me. Jennifer Dorr White plays Bonnie with the same sort of naturalness, and I liked the arc she creates for her character. Nancy Hornback is spot-on as Jean, the Tupperware aficionado with a sweet exterior. Kate VanDevender as Tracy Ann creates what has to be the winner for most annoying character voice, but she endears herself to the audience with every line. I was impressed with what Patricia Dalen does with what little emotional content she is given as Diane. Brian Dykstra holds up his end as the cast's sole male character.
The set and costumes, courtesy of Rob Odorisio and Rob Bevenger respectively, are right on target for the play's time and place. Overall, the production design really puts you in the world.
Sealed for Freshness is without a doubt funny and very well produced but it lacks depth. It seemed to me that it was trying to go there, but it never quite gets there. I don't think this is reason to stay away from it, a night of laughing is fun, but you're not going to have anything new about women or womanhood revealed to you.