Backing Track at Arden Theatre Company

            In their second production back to live theater, the Arden is presenting a play they commissioned from R. Eric Thomas that is making its world premiere, “Backing Track,” It is a comedy-drama about an unconventional adult family in the aftermath of the death of the mother. It deals with many intergenerational issues, and with modern technology, but it is primarily about the complicated relationships between the main character, Avery, and his mother Mel, his sister Jessica, and the guy on the Grindr dating app, Abraham. It is full of set-ups and jokes which kept the audience laughing. I cannot say that I loved it as much.

            Humor is such a personal thing and many of the predictable jokes didn’t usually work for me as it seemed to do for  others. But the story itself is a very powerful one.

            Everyone is trying to escape from something. Avery runs to a cruise line to work singing karaoke. Jessica has fled to Canada to get away from a country that has been unkind to her people. And Mel wants to pass on the house she owns, that she inherited from her wife, Miriam, to Avery… who doesn’t want it.

            We listen to Avery sing. He has a wonderful voice, but it’s a there’s a bit too much of it. It doesn’t help drive the story. We also watch the developing relationship he has with Abraham. It too is a little excessive and I found the stereotypical overacting of gay men to be a bit tiresome, over the top, and embarrassing. It’s the stuff of bad tv.

            There is the neighborhood association that intrudes in the family’s life. There is convenient coincidence that brings characters together. It was reaching a bit. But when the second act takes off, there is more honest fun. The jokes were funnier. Sadly, the actors talked right through the laughter and I discovered from others in the house, that they, like me, missed many of the words which followed the laughter.

            I enjoyed the generational confusion as Mel misunderstands words (a la Lou Costello in the “Who’s on First” routine), and her struggles with the technology that her son-in-law is trying to install. She is having trouble moving on. On the unseen tv, the film “Titanic” is always on- it was Miriam’s favorite and reminds them all of lost love.

            The casting in this ensemble group was also outstanding. African-American, Asian-American, White American- the blending of loves and lovers was so natural. All-in-all, I enjoyed the production, but would have liked it even more had it been either a drama or if the director would have instructor the actors to let the comic lines take care of themselves instead of overplaying them.. It also could have been tightened with some judicious editing to make it even more powerful.

“Backing Track” by R. Eric Thomas.  Thru April 10, 2022.Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Arden    215-922-1122

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