An (Un)typical Australian Family

THEATER: REVIEW

The Sum of Us Play by David Stevens. Directed by Kevin Dowling. Starring Tony Goldwyn, Richard Venture. At the Cherry Lane Theatre.

DOMESTIC life with an Australian accent and a variety of odd plot twists receives a straightforward treatment from David Stevens in ``The Sum of Us.''

A writer-director with a cosmopolitan background and extensive credits, Mr. Stevens here focuses on contemporary homelife in a Melbourne industrial suburb. The household consists of Dad (Richard Venture), an insurance company clerk, and Jeff (Tony Goldwyn), his 24-year-old homosexual son.

Jeff is a plumber and an avid footballer.

The play begins in the familiar vein of such comedies with good-natured banter about what's for supper (lasagna and Sara Lee blueberry cake, for instance) and similar important issues.

Dad takes a tolerant view of his son's homosexuality, describing Jeff as ``a good, honest lad with a heart as big as Western Australia.'' Jeff appreciates the respect even though, as he reminds Dad at one point, ``I'm never going to give you grandchildren.''

The dialogue and interspersed monologues abound, explaining relevant family references and reminiscences.

The human equation becomes more complicated when Jeff seeks to begin a relationship with Greg (Neil Maffin), a local gardener, and widower Dad starts seeing Joyce (Phyllis Somerville), a middle-aged divorc'ee whom he has met through a telephone dating service.

The play turns bleak with a final plot twist that leaves a stricken Dad completely dependent on the care of Jeff.

Under Kevin Dowling's direction, the four players at the Cherry Lane Theatre respond believably to the genre nature of the play, with its earthy vernacular.

Their Australian accents sounded convincing. Messrs. Venture and Goldwyn are particularly effective in establishing and sustaining a sense of the affectionate father-son relationship.

John Lee Beatty's setting, lighted by Dennis Parichy, has a lived-in look. Therese A. Bruck designed the costumes.

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