By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
The world is just so horribly toxic these days. It used to be that getting the newspaper and leisurely leafing through it in the mornings was my most favorite part of the day. Now when I hear my failing New York Times thud against the front door, I feel like I’ve got to don a HazMat suit and retrieve the thing with asbestos tongs.
Barely recovering from that, I now realize with a shock that Labor Day is suddenly behind us and the 2020 presidential campaign is beginning in earnest … but I’m too exhausted/petrified to leave my house! (That’s why I’m hoping one of you darlings will take the lead in drafting my dream ticket: Michele Obama for President and for VP Lin-Manuel Miranda. Tweet the bros at “Pod Save America” and see if we can make this happen!)
Butterscotch continues through September 14. South Park Theatre, South Park. 412/831-8552. www.southparktheatre.com
So you might believe I’d be in the mood for a gentle, sweet-natured comedy guaranteed to warm my heart and affirm my life … and, if so, I couldn’t make a better choice than catching Barbara L. Smith’s Butterscotch at South Park Theatre.
A crotchety old widower named Emery, living in the eastern part of Pennsylvania, is hosting, and not particularly graciously, a nervous fusspot of a New York City food critic. This young man, Lincoln, is, as it turns out, engaged to Emery’s daughter and he’s come to drive Emery back to the City That Never Sweeps so Emery can attend the wedding … and exactly nobody thinks this is a good idea.
There’s also a couple of big-hearted neighbors stopping by to toss in their own two cents; Pendy is the widow from next door who’s been checking up on Emery ever since his recent health scare. While his friend Bob is part of a group of local hunters Emery founded to stop the gentrification of a nearby wooded area.
Beside the “will/won’t Emery and Lincoln find common ground?” contretemps, (and though I’m loathe to give away the ending if you haven’t figured it out five minutes in then … well, life must be an endless parade of jaw-dropping surprises for you) Smith throws in a subplot between Bob and Mitzi, a woman who is a leading proponent of the abovementioned gentrification.
I’ve never seen this 1994 play before and what I can gather from a cursory tour of the internet is that maybe not a whole lot of other people have as well. But I certainly feel like I’ve seen this kind of play before; the whole crusty-but-benign oldster and uptight young ’un seeking a rapprochement is a staple of the “heartwarming, life-affirming” theatrical catalog. Smith’s play doesn’t break new ground but I don’t think she wants to – not as good as some but better than others Butterscotch is by both the numbers and the book.
Truth to tell, even with as horrid as the world is, a sweet-natured gentle comedy really isn’t my cup of tea. (I don’t even want to think what that says about me.) But, at the show, I heard enough appreciative sighs and heart warmed oohs and aahs to know the South Park audience was enjoying the play and the performances from Greg Caridi, Howard Elson, Pat Fuchel, Terry Westwood and Krista Strosnider. They were, without question, beyond charming and director Sue Kurey obviously has a great of love for the story and these characters.
Personally, I wouldn’t have minded if the energy level could have been considerably higher and I think Kurey and company might have had an easier road to hoe had they raised the character stakes a bit but, at the end of the day, Butterscotch is a gentle, heartwarming comedy and there’s little sense in acting like it’s anything but.