Can Second Stage have installed some kind of aesthetic auto-shift on its mission statement? Every year, when the hot weather sets in, this nonprofit institution lurches away from its normal serious intentions, into a mode of flimsy triviality that suggests its principal ambition is to annex Off-Broadway to the long-dead straw-hat circuit. You remember—every summer in the bad old days vacationers flocked to watch TV stars on hiatus from their sitcoms, or theater stars recuperating from a recent Main Stem flop, earn a little extra income and credibility by touring around in piffling comedies, thrillers, and comedy-thrillers dredged up from Broadway’s long list of quick-closing forgettables.
Though Second Stage’s mission includes the revival of significant American works, it hasn’t yet had the gall to resuscitate any of these antiquated items—they were not the misguided souls who tried, last year, to reanimate Cactus Flower—but to judge by the new works the company now puts up between awards season and Labor Day, you shouldn’t be surprised to find Everybody Loves Opal, The Gazebo, or Speaking of Murder on its upcoming roster.
Meantime, Second Stage’s department of vapid warm-weather diversions has unveiled All New People, by Zach Braff, star of last year’s paltry spring offering, Paul Weitz’s Trust. Like Trust and Weitz’s previous inanity, Show People, Braff’s morbidity-streaked comedy deals with four people who meet by improbable coincidence in a luxurious but isolated setting, this time a Jersey-shore beach house in the off-season. The improbability of their meeting produces laughs; the extreme desperation of one or more of the characters, if you can call them that, produces hints of potential violence. Add a spice of sexual interest, kinky if possible, shake lightly, and pour. Eager audiences lap it up.
Braff follows the recipe efficiently enough. His actors—Justin Bartha, Krysten Ritter, Anna Camp, and the excellent David Wilson Barnes—keep the syrupy beverage bubbling. Peter DuBois, directing, sometimes overlooks circumstances like the supposedly freezing weather outside, on which cannier old-time fluff-meisters would have built inventive gags. Though remote from plausibility, Braff’s play does contain a buried political notion: The accident that has traumatized Bartha’s character is actually Ronald Reagan’s fault, since there would have been two people on duty that night if Reagan hadn’t broken the air traffic controllers’ union. But here at Braindead Barn Playhouse, we never discuss politics. Now which laid-off sitcom star can we get for Natalie Needs a Nightie?