Finding the funny side of family relations

Peter Levine (l-r), Emily Jon Mitchel and Patricia Rendall in “In the Car with Blossom and Len” at the Queens Theatre.
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They’re sometimes referred to as the Sandwich Generation. Typically in their 40s or 50s, these selfless souls are sandwiched between two life stages: supporting their own children, while caring for their aging parents. And the challenges they face are extraordinary.

About one in eight Americans aged 40 to 60, is both raising a child and caring for a parent, while dealing with the angst and roller coaster emotions that are so much a part of this modern-day reality.

A wonderful cast of actors is working their magic on stage at Queens Theatre through the weekend, bringing the struggles of the Sandwich Generation alive.

“In the Car with Blossom and Len” is both funny and sad, and it’s all about working through family relationships without going crazy.

Playwright and actress Joni Fritz knows all too well what that’s like. She became a parent to an aging parent and decided to tell her story after a crisis she and her sister had gone through with their dad. “As it was happening, I remember thinking no one would believe it—the situation was heartbreaking, yet my parents were hilarious,” she writes.

The play grapples with real-life issues that many baby boomers, seniors and sandwich generationers deal with: Aging, rocky family relationships, guilt, unbearable stress, and financial hardship. But Fritz injects steady doses of uplifting, light-hearted humor between touching scenes that seem to remind the audience that getting older is just a fact of life. And you’ll find yourself chuckling at the “pearls of wisdom” that come out of Len’s and Blossom’s mouths.

“I think the reason why this play has resonated with audiences is because so many people are going through this now – taking care of their aging parents and all the conflicting, overwhelming feelings and emotions that go with it – the love, the guilt, the anger, the frustration, the humor, the complicated sibling relationsh­ips,” Fritz says.

And you may even get some tips from octogenarians Len and Blossom Gold’s frazzled caregiver daughter Holly, on the art of communicating with your older but still feisty parents. As over-extended as she is, Holly has found a way to keep the peace without losing her sanity. But it ain’t easy. Her comedic attempts at communication, especially in the car, will keep you in stitches until you begin to understand the gravity of her family’s situation when she discovers a mound of unopened bills in her parents’ bedroom.

By embracing Holly’s squeezed yet torn in every direction persona, actress Patricia Randell takes on a challenging role and succeeds by making the caregiver’s emotional turmoil palpable. Holly has devoted her entire life to making sure her parents, Blossom (Emily Jon Mitchel) and Len are doing OK. The forever single daughter, patiently puts up with Mom’s forgetfulness and Dad’s stubborn and annoying ways, but the audience soon learns that she’ll do anything to avoid personal happiness and freedom because the thought of it makes her feel like she can’t breathe.

In time, Holly comes to realize that because of her unwavering dedication, she has sacrificed what could have been… And she’s jealous that her very pulled-together sister Fern, has it all: a law practice, a husband and a college grad daughter who is looking for a job. But everything isn’t quite what it seems in Fern’s life, as evidenced by her occasional swigs from an old bottle of Manishewitz wine.

If you have a sibling, you can relate to the constant locking of horns between Holly and her lawyerly, solution-oriented sister, played by three-time Emmy Award winning actress Martha Byrne, best known for her run on the CBS’s “As the World Turns.” Byrne began her career at the age of 10 with a two-year run on the Broadway stage in “Annie,” and has gone on to have over 35 successful years in front of and behind the camera.

Fern seems to fall short in the “heart” department and has a hard time getting through to her old-fashioned dad, played by seasoned Brooklyn actor Peter Levine, who said he is thrilled to be back “in the car” again. “It’s been my privilege to be Len before, a complicated, proud, loving man struggling to maintain his independence and dignity in the face of the inevitability of aging and death that awaits us all.”

“In the Car with Blossom and Len” may have started a conversation. If you want to be part of it, you should reserve your seats before the play’s Queens run end Sunday.

You’ll find out why Susan Anderson (played by Whitney Andrews) paid a visit to the family. Why Len, a chemical engineer, lost his lab business after 20 years, and who Blossom’s angel really was, and why he turned out to be a snake. And finally, why Holly’s mother still cherishes her beautiful but outdated work clothes.

Posted 12:00 am, November 17, 2016
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