First, it helps to know that “The Vast Difference” is a clever pun. Ostensibly referring to the difference between men and women, it is also a sort of homophone – “vas deferens” is the sperm tunnel surgically altered in the course of a vasectomy.
This timely and timeless play is the story of Everyman – George Noonan – whose wife and mother of five girls demands that he get a vasectomy. An airline attendant whose masculinity is questioned every day on the job, George finds his virility further threatened, symbolically and actually, by this impending procedure, which triggers a mid-life crisis. George seeks reassurance from other ‘manly’ men – including a hilarious support group that spoofs the mythopoetic men's movement of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with a group that seeks to release their inner Silly Man. (Shades of Monty Python.) As the lines between reality and George’s over-active imagination (neurosis) blur, he reaches out to the giants of manhood that shaped his youth – his barber father, John Wayne, and the great Tiger right fielder, Al Kaline.
This PRTC revival is a joy and the cast is phenomenal. Directed by Guy Sanville, the new production produces a steady stream of laugh lines punctuated by a few telling moments of true poignancy.
To be sure, this play is targeted at men, who can directly relate to the terror of imagining their female proctologist brandishing oversized pruning shears. But if you ever loved a father, brother, husband, son or Detroit Tiger, this play will speak to you.
Fittingly, the play opens with Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” – affirming that this is a modern allegory for all men. David Bendena – who was just right as the smarmy Anton Schindler in last spring’s “33 Variations” – is perfect as the funny, likeable, regular Midwestern guy trying to avoid an inevitable collision with self-awareness and identity crisis.
Stephanie Buck is strong as the no-nonsense wife pushing George to get the vasectomy. Rhiannon Ragland is Dr. Howard, George’s female proctologist and informal psychotherapist, who has a wicked sense of humor that her male patients find a bit off-putting. Richard McWilliams is just incredible as George’s father – the barber who wants everything for his son. Tough, manly, and generally sarcastic, he manages to summon tears while describing the way Al Kaline could make the impossible deep right field catch look easy… and then throw the runner out at third with one fluid motion.
The other roles, listed as ‘Assorted Males’ in the program, are played by a Who’s Who of the area’s best actors: Nathaniel Eyde, Rusty Mewha, Michael Brian Ogden, Drew Parker and Tom Whalen. These guys simply have too much fun playing a broad range of characters, and they generously share that fun with the audience.
“The Vast Difference” runs through December 14, 2013. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 2 p.m. Ticket reservations can be made online or by calling The Purple Rose Theatre Company Box Office at (734) 433-7673.
All performances are held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, in Chelsea.