The flier for Tom Diriwachter’s A Healthy House contains the blurb, “We interfered with God’s plan.” Clearly the playwright wants us to believe that his perfectly formed domestic slice of life is about more than an elderly Staten Island man wanting to invest in renovating his aging home and the tribulations attendant to that decision.
The blurb places a burden on a finely written play to mean more than it does. In this case, watching the four characters interact is enough reason to visit A Healthy House.
As the Father (a wonderfully scattered and moving Robert Arcaro) tries to make sense of a Salesman’s (Andy Spinosi, convincingly avoiding smarminess) pitch, his son Tim (earnest, solid Brendan J. Mulhern) kibitzes and worries, filling in some gaps in his Dad’s memory and keeping tabs on the costs.
The Salesman runs down lists of colors, types of siding and shingles, etcetera, avoiding until the last possible moment mentioning the cost of the renovation. The Salesman skillfully offers discount after discount until even Tim believes a bargain has been reached.
Skip to four months later as work is about to begin, and the Project Manager (Steve Gamble, amiable, yet strong) delivers some bad news about the house’s soffits, news which threatens to put the kibosh on the entire project.
The Father and Tim are forced to do some soul-searching. Fond and not so fond memories are bandied about, mostly about Tim’s late Mother. They ponder all the family lore wrapped within the walls of this Staten Island shack.
Diriwachter is particularly skilled in writing working class vernacular. The Father and Tim speak the same language and he catches all the subtleties of decades of ups and downs. He also is wonderful with the two salesmen, cleverly finding the rhythm of their spiels that build up to the final pitches. His salespeople are written as clever but not unfeeling so that the audience never totally believes that the Father and son are being betrayed and cheated.
As the play rolls along, it’s clear that Diriwachter means to use the word “healthy” in the title ironically. Certainly this old Staten Island working class structure—comfy, lived-in set by Mark Marcante—has seen better days, but the state of the father-son relationship is complex, argumentative and caring, perhaps bordering on dysfunctional.
Alexander Bartenieff’s lighting sometimes shrewdly borders on the surreal while Roy Chang’s sound design helps make the pain of renovation with its constant banging and clanging all the more real.
Jonathan Weber’s directorial hand is almost invisible, but he clearly understands the characters and the situation.
A Healthy House (through June 19, 2022)
A Prime Stage to Screen Production
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: 80 minutes without an intermission