American Century Theater: Affordable Culture in Arlington

There have been occasions, more frequently occurring on winter-sodden January nights, when lazy suburbanites are absolutely unable to muster the energy to drive their cars, catch a metro, or hail a cab downtown to see the latest and the greatest that the city has to offer. Fortunately for us, culture really does exist in the suburbs.

On just such a recent Wednesday night, I attended a performance of “Life with Father,” in a middle-school building in Arlington. This charmingly dated play, written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse and first produced in 1939, is the longest running, non-musical play in Broadway history. It has since sunk into obscurity with the passing of time and the strip mining of its central themes of family dynamics, society, and religion by today’s sit-coms until they ring out hollow and devoid of authenticity.

The American Century Theater is committed to saving just such plays of American theater history and bringing them to the public at extremely accessible prices. And in an economic recession, that is perhaps overly compared to the Great Depression that birthed this play, it’s a relief that a little escape from reality can be had so cheaply.

This group of actors, mixed in talent and experience, made up in heart what was lacking in polish. Performing in a black-box theater with 90 seats, this two-and-a-half hour play raised many laughs, several knowing smiles, and produced an overall feeling of goodwill. Authenticity is just what this play was known for.

Clarence Day, Sr., played by Joe Cronin, embodied adjectives like blustering, spoiled, entitled, and self-important. But underlying these outbursts was a constant love for his family that made him an endearing character. Cronin has my hats off for playing the role superbly.

Vinnie Day, played by Deborah Rinn Critzer, was delightfully oblivious to the comings-and-goings of her kooky family, content to rest in her absolute faith that everything would turn out just right. And of course, it did. The four sons did not, in my opinion, do anything worth mentioning. Karl Bittner attempted the role of Clarence Day, Jr. with enthusiasm; however, his talents did not seem quite suited to the character.

Mary Skinner, the small-town acquaintance who stirs Clarence Jr. into an absolute state of teenage moods, was played effortlessly by Megan Graves. Also to be specially mentioned were Cora, played by Sarah Holt, and Rev. Lloyd, played by Brian Crane, who easily stole their scenes.

I applaud The American Century Theater for its preservation of classic plays and for making theater affordable for the community. Upcoming performances are “Native Son” in April and “Edward Albee’s Seascapes” in August. I intend to see both and I’d love to see you there!

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