Were the characters in Sheldon Bull’s Mallorca (directed by Donald Brenner for Abingdon Theatre Company) to move to network television, their show could easily be dubbed The Golden Guys. It would, of course, be outfitted with a laugh track and a theme song that people would be humming 20 years hence.
The play’s situation-comedy ambience is not surprising. First-time playwright Bull worked as a writer, director, and/or producer on such TV series as M*A*S*H*, Coach, and Newhart. The sitcom sensibility permeates Mallorca matter-of-factly and unashamedly.
Three bottled-up middle-aged New York City men—Stan (L.J. Ganser), Leo (Brian Russell), and Arthur (Steven Hauck)—barely know one another. They are linked only by their friendship with the exasperating Julius (Rory Scholl), a heart-on-his-sleeve kind of guy who’s not afraid to show vulnerability. Julius’s friends carp about and laugh at his neediness and verbosity, but they are subconsciously drawn to (and envious of) his emotional openness. Then Julius runs amok after splitting up with his latest girlfriend. He flees to the Spanish resort island of Mallorca. Fearing that he may be suicidal, the other guys—perhaps slightly surprised by the loyalty they feel—all fly off to Spain to rescue their friend.
The Mallorca storyline is simple and predictable. It’s no genuine spoiler to say that each of Julius’s pals will overcome masculine pride and admit to his own particular midlife crisis—and that a cheery denouement will ensue once everyone has experienced his respective epiphany. Meanwhile we are given an accumulation of urination gags, at least one spit take, and a good deal of exposition relayed via onstage telephone conversations. (Though the play is apparently set in 2015, Stan conveniently still uses an answering machine, which also helps convey necessary info to the audience.)
In a way it’s admirable that Bull doesn’t pack a lot of snappy punch lines into his script. He tries to tell the story more or less straight—to let the situation take care of the comedy. But when you’re so wholeheartedly embracing the sitcom sensibility, it seems a little strange not to have wisecracks flying in rapid succession. On the night I saw the show, there were some stretches when not many laughs at all were heard from the audience. Also, I think the script might be improved by expanding the role of Julius a bit. Before he even appears, we have this idea of him as an indelibly wacky character, but when he finally shows up, he gets relatively short shrift.
It’s the acting in Mallorca that saves the day. The four male actors are, mostly, fine in their roles. I especially liked the nuanced Russell as worrywart family man Leo. And Lisa Riegel is a refreshing, welcome presence as Roberta, an American woman whom Julius meets in Mallorca.
The play explores interesting territory. But for a comic investigation of bonding patterns among New York City heterosexual males, you’ll do at least as well to watch (or re-watch) HBO’s Jonathan Ames series Bored to Death (2009-11), which explores the theme in a funnier and more sophisticated way.