Marian is a Jewish mother extraordinaire. Don’t drag your rolling suitcase across the floor, you’ll scratch the wood, she exhorts her daughter who has arrived for a visit frazzled. Marian’s a maven in her book club, which is reading “The Wild Female” to get everyone in touch with her “pelvic bowl.”
Her Florida apartment looks like a cross between Pottery Barn chic and Westchester, N.Y., traditional with its gray sofas and dark wood dining room. She eschews the Home Shopping Network for “Law and Order” reruns — cue the ominous dah dah chords.
As a collector and, she hopes, repairer of lost souls, this empty nester has taken in the boy next store after his sister’s death along with a pregnant teenage niece. Her house bustles and she loves it.
D.C.-based playwright and actor Dani Stoller is unveiling her newest sitcom-like dramedy, “Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes,” a part of Arlington’s Signature Theatre Heidi Thomas Writers’ Initiative, which supports new plays by women authors. Set in a sunny Florida living room, dining room and office/guest room with one of those ubiquitous pull-out sofas, “Easy Women” is both a rambunctious and sobering look at a sublimely dysfunctional Jewish family. Think ABC’s “The Goldbergs” crossed with Joshua Harman’s popular family play “Bad Jews,” with raunchier situations and an onstage sex scene.
Before this 21st-century modern of family even enters, cheerful “Leave It To Beaver”-esque music plays — but there’s nothing sweetly suburban about what’s to come. Lee enters toting a garbage bag filled with belongings and a roller suitcase. “You’re letting the air out. Close the door,” mom Marian exhorts.
As Marian, Susan Rome is no stranger to the Jewish mother stereotype having taken those roles at Studio, Theater J and Olney. Here you can hear New York in her voice as she nags, cajoles, loves too much and not enough, then apologizes.
Now Lee (Shanara Gabrielle at her agitated best) has come home for consolation. An absolute mess, she cheated on her husband, again and again. And this is not Marian’s proudest moment as a mother. So instead she dotes on visibly pregnant Kitty (luminous, wacky and wise Jordan Slattery), whose sweetly vapid demeanor is an antidote for Lee’s high-strung crisis. Neighbor Bobby (shy John Austin) hangs around after his own family crisis only to find himself in a fix between his attraction for Kitty and Lee. And Marian’s husband, Richard, meanders through in his loud Hawaiian shirt, trying to make sense of all the drama and assuage guilt of those involved.
“Easy Women” touches on some typical Jewish tropes beyond the overbearing Jewish mother, namely the psychologically dysfunctional Jewish family — a situation as old and familiar as the Old Testament. But the play comes across as more “Seinfeld”-Jewish than Jewish-Jewish. We know instinctually that these characters are Jewish but nothing they do or say reflects on or is affected by their Jewishness, which is tenuous at best. Designer Meghan Raham could have at least added a pair of Shabbat candles or a menorah to the breakfront.
Finally, this is far from a family-friendly evening at the theater, as the warning in the theater lobby and website notes, “Contains an onstage sex scene, partial nudity and cigarette smoking (herbal).” Stoller’s comedy is sharp, her situations fraught, but if you miss this one, you haven’t missed a milestone production.
“Easy Women Smoking Loose Cigarettes” by Dani Stoller, through March 28. Signature Theatre, 4200 Campbell Ave., Arlington. For information, go to sigtheatre.org.