Off-Broadstreet Theatre has Marshall Karp’s first play, a comedy about an unusual romance.

By: Stuart Duncan
   Sometimes you are having so much fun and laughing so hard at what the actors on stage are saying and what they are doing, that you overlook the fact that the script may not really be as spirited as the cast is suggesting. I have the feeling that Squabbles might very well fall into that category. Marshall Karp may not be America’s next Neil Simon. After all, he was in the advertising business, writing commercials for Coke and Stroh’s Beer, when he decided to head for Hollywood. Squabbles is his first play.
   But the current production at Off-Broadstreet Theatre in Hopewell is such an audience-pleaser and the opening-night crowd greeted it with such fervor, you probably won’t care much. So what if the evening suggests a sitcom — it’s funny and even touching. Any time you can laugh and cry at a show, who cares if you are being manipulated?
   Here’s the situation: Jerry and Alice Sloan (James Perri and Lauren McGowan) are settling in nicely to married life in their cozy home in Stamford, Conn. (Perri and McGowan are recently married in real life.) Oh, they have the usual hassles that newlyweds have, but the biggest problem would seem to be the fact that Alice’s dad, Abe (veteran Off-Broadstreet favorite Doug Klein in his 20th show for the popular dessert theater), has moved in with them and clearly shows no signs of getting out.
   So far, so good, but a telephone call from Jerry’s mom, Mildred (Carole Mancini, making her second appearance with the group but with credits all over the area), takes care of that: Her house has just burned down — something about an unwatched pot on the stove — and she is coming over "just temporarily" to have a roof over hear head.
   Now Abe and Mildred hate each other (squabble is a kind word for what passes between them), so the situation begins to heat up. And then there is the fact that another phone call (a big sitcom device) assures Alice that she is indeed pregnant. Since all three bedrooms are already occupied, that means that someone is going to have to move to at least permit the baby space for a crib and other necessities.
   Surprisingly, in Act II, the mood turns gentler on the way to a somewhat predictable ending. I don’t want to give the whole plot away, but everyone ate it up. Oh yes, me included. Klein and Mancini are so charming as they snarl, parry and thrust at each other; Perri is so beautifully bewildered at it all; McGowan has such believable contractions you think she must have been studying Lamaze (she insists she has not). There is one more character, a Puerto Rican gardener (Curtis Kaine), but the playwright assigns a one-joke bathroom motif to his character and then seems not to know what to do with him. Wisely he does little.
   But the rest of them have a wonderful time and you will too.
Squabbles continues at Off-Broadstreet Theatre, 5 S. Greenwood Ave., Hopewell, through Jan. 21. Performances: Fri.-Sat. 8 p.m., Sun. 2:30 p.m. (No performances Dec. 23-25.) Doors open one hour prior to show time for dessert and beverages. Tickets cost $23.75 Fri., Sun.; $25.25 Sat. For information, call (609) 466-2766.