From June 2 to 19, Theater for the New City will present the world premiere of “A Healthy House” by Tom Diriwachter, directed by Jonathan Weber.
It’s a wickedly funny play about a Staten Island family trying to preserve its run-down house and its memories without getting too scammed by the contractor. Devilishly deadpan yet explosive and deeply personal, it’s built on deeply affecting themes of family closeness, the unstoppable advancement of time, life and death.
Tim, a forty-something Staten Island screenwriter and his indomitable father, a cancer survivor, aim to preserve their aging family house with new siding. Tim’s mom has passed on and most of their neighborhood friends have died off or moved away. A siding company’s salesman has gained their confidence with his competence and earned their trust with his empathy. But as the renovation contract becomes increasingly expensive, the father and son struggle to keep faith with each other as they face the question: is it worth trying to hold off the march of time by restoring the house?
The salesman, and later his company’s project manager, insinuate themselves into the lives of Tim and his elderly father through personal issues including the father’s battle with cancer and recently being widowed, and Tim’s failed dream of being a screenwriter and his suffocating marriage. When this sales team breaks the trust, embroiling father and son in a scam, it makes for an explosive scenario with the family’s finances hanging in the balance and the father’s care in question. The situation would be frightening, but playwright Tom Diriwachter is sort of a Bruce Jay Friedman of Staten Island. His play is largely a shrewd, humorous take on the psychic terrors of seemingly serene suburbia.
A third-generation Staten Islander, Diriwachter writes from the uncertain perspective of well-meaning men like himself, gently tweaking their tender spots. The scenes of negotiations with the siding company are written in a mesmerizing deadpan humor. The job of fixing the house keeps getting bigger starting with siding, growing to windows, roof and soffit (underside of the eves). When we reach the end of the play, with the extent of the renovation still unresolved, we see how it reveals the key to the relationship between the father and his son. The renovation is just their finger in the dyke of inevitable changes. “You two stick together,” Tim’s mom said when she was dying. But is it ever actually possible to keep things the way they are?
“A Healthy House” is Tom Diriwachter’s seventh full-length play produced in Manhattan, and his third at TNC. He has had many one-acts produced at numerous theaters and in various festivals in New York and Los Angeles, including the Strawberry Festival, the Turnip Festival, Love Creek, Ensemble Studio Theatre, and West Coast Ensemble. He has been a featured artist in TNC’s Lower East Side Festival of the Arts for the past decade. His last play, “Great Kills,” was a three-character tale of Staten Island grifters starring Joe Pantoliano. “Asterisk,” his play about the baseball steroid crisis, was archived by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. Diriwachter claims to be profoundly influenced by the humor of Albert Brooks, whose put-upon everyman is evident in the protagonist of this play, Tim–the only one who gets the joke, which is usually on him.
Diriwachter grew up in Staten Island, as did his parents. He moved from Fort Wadsworth to St. George (near the ferry terminal) and ultimately to West Brighton, where he lives now. Both his parents were born in Mariner’s Harbor, as were all his grandparents. His grandfather owned a bar in Staten Island named Cherry Lane and his father raced stock cars in Weissglass Stadium. Tom says he writes about people he knows and versions of his family. His style, he says, is to write drama but project as much humor as possible. Father characters are always important, but “Great Kills” was his first play with a father in a dominant role. His own mother passed away and since then, he says, he and his father have a closer relationship.
The actors are Brendan J. Mulhern as Tim and Robert Arcaro as the Father. The siding company characters are Andy Spinosi as the siding salesman and Steve Gamble as the project manager.
Director is Diriwachter’s long-time collaborator, Jonathan Weber, who previously staged Diriwachter’s “Great Kills” (TNC, 2015), “Age Out” (TNC, 2011), “Guaranteed to Never Lose Suction,” “Shock Therapy,” “Bear!,” “The Professor and the Whore” and “The Irish Goodbye.” Weber’s other directing credits include “Thelonious” and “Two Alone/Too Together” by Peter Welch, two plays by Oliver Thrun and six by Walter Corwin. He is Managing Director of TNC, a position he has held since 2018 and previously from 2009 through 2014. He was Managing Director of TACT/The Actors Company Theater from 2015 to 2018.
Set design is by Mark Marcante. Lighting design is by Alexander Bartenieff.
Tom Diriwachter writes, “Theater for the New City provides guidance and support for a playwright, while offering enough independence that they might realize their vision. Due to my schedule, and with the pandemic, it had been three years since I last entered TNC, but when I met with the director of my new play for our first production meeting, encountering several theater regulars, awaiting me were warm greetings, and it felt as if I’d never left. I was a feeling one has among family. I am eternally grateful to Crystal Field, the matriarch, for all she has done.”
June 2 to 19, 2022 Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave. (at E. 10th Street) Presented by Theater for the New City Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 PM, Sundays at 3:00 PM Tickets $18 gen. Adm., $15 seniors & students Box office (212) 254-1109, www.theaterforthenewcity.net.