You can read a lot in the news these days about the plight of working-class Americans caught in a downward spiral, unable to afford housing or find well-paying jobs. But you don’t necessarily often see that plight portrayed onstage, as you do in Stephen Spotswood’s Doublewide, now playing at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz Theatre.
Of course, getting all preachy and political doesn’t make for good theater, so Spotswood, in this National New Play Network rolling world premiere, dishes up his family’s story with more than a touch of comic flavor. You might find yourself looking back 20 years to the days of television sitcom Roseanne (interestingly enough, making a comeback soon).
In fact, the set of the doublewide trailer of the play’s name (created by Isabel and Moriah Curley-Clay) may remind you at first sight of the home of the Conner clan on that TV show. It’s a little crowded, with its afghan-draped couch and chair and lack of a real dining room, but it’s neat enough (aside from the teenage daughter’s bedroom), and you can believe in the family living here year after year.
That family feels real: mother Sharon (Gisela Chipe), an assistant manager at Walmart whose back aches from long stints at the register; father Big Jim (Todd Licea), who spends his days pushing soda cartons; daughter Lorelai (Alexa Fajardo Eldridge), who yearns to become a record producer but in the meantime struggles at school; and grandma Coral (Kim Crow), whose retirement consists of feeding the slots of the newish casino in their small-town rural area. The show’s fifth character is Chuck (Nick Piacente), Lorelai’s high-school aged tutor, who takes a personal interest in his pupil.
They’re real, but not especially compelling at first. And the storyline that seems to be unspooling follows a fairly predictable trajectory, making you wonder if there will be any surprise to this play. Then, at the end of Act I, there is.
And that surprise, and its consequences, ups the emotional stakes of Act II. No longer is Doublewide just a tale of a man who wants a real home, instead of a trailer, for his family and is willing to take on the powers that be to get it. It’s now a more affecting look at just how hard that dream really is to reach, and how one incident can alter forever the chances of making it.
Under the direction of Jason Cannon, the cast of Doublewide delivers a feeling portrait of one family’s life. Licea is especially strong as Jim, who can’t quite understand why things went wrong for him but never loses his humanity to resentment. It takes a while to get there, but in the end Doublewide pays off.
Doublewide continues through Aug. 20 at the Gompertz; for tickets call 366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.