Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Ensemble’s 2017 Colombi New Plays Festival features “Occupation Dad”

Ensemble Theatre’s “Playwrights” was established in the early 1990’s by Don Bianchi, one of the founders of Dobama, and Park Goist, a professor of American Studies at Case Western Reserve.  It was started with the hope of creating an opportunity for local playwrights to have their works staged. 

With that experience in their background, Ensemble Theatre established the COLOMBI NEW PLAYS FESTIVAL in March of 2012.   This year’s selection for staging is Tyler Whidden’s “Occupation Dad,” which was workshopped at Ohio University and centers on Jason, a stay-at-home dad.  No, he’s not a stay-at-home dad, he is a dad who is employed. Well, he’s not presently employed, but stays home with his son.  Confused?  So, is Jason.

When he takes his one-year old son, Parker, to the park, the mothers hound him because of his stay-at-home, employed/unemployed status and fill him in on what books he should be reading to properly nurture his son, who is not yet walking or talking or being anything other than a black rectangular stand.  Yes, Parker is actually a black rectangular stand with a stocking cap attached to his “head.”  (This is a clever “shtick.”)

As the line from “The Sound of Music” says, “Let’s start at the beginning.”

Jason is the youngest of three siblings of a very dysfunctional family.  His father, Walt, was distant while the children were growing up, their mother drunk much of the time.  Now that Walt is in early stage dementia, he is even more distant.  Daily he packs up his tools to go to work in his non-existent garden.  He actually goes to a plot of land with a bench on which he sits and stares into space.  This is where Walt and Jason sometimes used to go to play ball and spend time together.

Jason’s mother isn’t talking to his sister, is being denied access to her granddaughters, and is constantly nagging Jason to “talk to” his older brother, Patrick.  Patrick is a man/child who likes to play games, get high, and has impregnated a woman.  He looks forward to having a “playmate.”  Little does he know, based on Jason’s experiences, especially with the park ladies, what fatherhood is really all about.

To make matters worse, the park ladies have recorded Jason “going off on them” and have put it on Facebook.  Now everyone knows what a horrible father Jason is.  Can things get worse?

Local writer Tyler Whidden’s play, in two one-hour acts and a ten-minute intermission, is a humorous, sad, over-the-top tale, which showcases gender, identity, responsibility, connecting and dysfunctionality.

The script is peppered with folksy sayings such as: “Sometimes parenting is knowing when to say “No.”  “Parenting is knowing CHOPS [being Comfortable, Helping, Observing and Problem solving].”  “Fathers are useless when it comes to raising children.”  “If you stay at home you are a mom.”  “Our children are not direct reflections of who we are as parents.”

The Ensemble production, under the direction of Aaron Elersich, zips nicely along, stressing the humor and dysfunctionality of the characters.  The cast is excellent.

Abraham Adams delights as the confounded Jason.  His frustration and confusion is well-etched on his mobile face.  He plays comedy well, texturing the character with total believability.

Mitch Rose appears born to play a slacker.  His Patrick, Jason’s brother, is boy/man perfect.

Darrell Starnick, as Jason’s father has the right vacant eyes of a person with memory loss.  His last scene is especially emotionally touching.

The rest of the cast, Valerie Young, Katie Atkinson, Hope Wondowsky and Becca Moseley, all nicely walk the line between comedy and farce.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Occupation Dad” has many laughs, is often thought provoking and gets a nice production.  This is not a great script but offers a nice escapist evening of theater.

“Occupation Dad” runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays @ 8 pm and Saturdays @ 2 pm and Sundays @ 2 pm through April 2nd at Ensemble Theatre, housed in the former Coventry School, 2843 Washington Blvd, Cleveland Heights.  For tickets call 216-321-2930 or go online to

Ensemble’s next fully staged production is Cleveland Heights’ playwright Rajiv Joseph’s The North Pool, opening April 28th and running through May 21st, 2017.

To see the views of other Cleveland area theatre reviewers go to: