Friday, April 15, 2005

Bob Saget in "Privilege": Once again the kids steal the show

On "Full House," Bob Saget played the dad with the supercilious grin and a pocketful of easy-fix sitcom-family solutions. That is, when he wasn't playing the dad-like host of "America's Funniest Home Videos," delivering all the cheesy, cliche intro lines to grainy clips of animals performing human-like acts and babies doing grown-up sort of things and adults acting like animals who should know better. As a result, there seem to be two kinds of people in the world (a nod to Daryl) -- those who think Bog Saget is God's gift to his television-watching people and those who think he's kinda evil. Just look at the main results of this Google search.

All of which is a slightly unnecessary intro to a quick review of the off-Broadway play Saget's starring in this month at Second Stage Theater, Privilege, written by one of the screenwriters who did About a Boy (Paul Weitz). In that movie, Hugh Grant's character grew to become a halfway-decent surrogate dad over the course of the story. In this play, about a father who's arrested for insider trading, Saget struggles to portray a rich dad more at home in the boardroom than in the opulent playroom he's funded for his sons. Saget -- in glasses, looking more like Jeff Goldblum than his former TV self -- didn't seem to handle very well the progression from pep-talk cool to end-of-his-rope frustration in the performance we saw the other night. The script calls on him to act out this line of emotion at least twice and both times I was laughing one minute and feeling uncomfortable for the guy the next as if he were not quite ready for this level of drama.

But if you get a chance, this show -- set amid the greed of '80s -- is worth seeing anyway -- for the great performances by two young actors who play the high-school and middle-school age sons. The younger boy, who's supposed to be about 12 or 13, is played with all the mannerisms and complaints ("I'm so bored!") and aspirations of his upper-class parents, while the junior-in-HS boy is the real teenager, espousing communist ideals ("well, socialist, really") even if he can't explicate them, using Reagan's face as a dartboard, jamming out to that Tiffany song, "I Think We're Alone Now." In one great scene, the older boy, Porter, comes home in the early a.m. after a night of drinking to find his brother, Charlie, waiting up for him. Charlie is shocked ("Are you drunk?" "What time is it?"), playing the long-suffering, responsible wife/mother lines as Porter waves him off. For some reason, the young actor playing Charlie reminded me of a pint-sized Nathan Lane. It is his journey from belief in his father's innocence to disillusionment and back to a wiser sort of childhood fantasy that becomes the backbone of the play.

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