The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Westfield Playhouse presents “Social Security” comedy, starring Lisa Wariner of Westfield (front, from left) and Susan Hill of Noblesville; Ka’Lena Cuevas of Fishers (middle, from left), Thom Johnson and Tom Smith of Westfield; and Erik Shaver of Greenwood (back left).
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Westfield Playhouse presents “Social Security” comedy, starring Lisa Wariner of Westfield (front, from left) and Susan Hill of Noblesville; Ka’Lena Cuevas of Fishers (middle, from left), Thom Johnson and Tom Smith of Westfield; and Erik Shaver of Greenwood (back left).
When Tom Smith was an FBI agent and lived in New York, he was there long enough to get a flavor of the life.
“If you’re a fan of Neil Simon or other author who write plays about Manhattan life, especially Jewish Manhattan life, then you understand how different it is than we live here,” said Smith of Westfield.
He plays the role of nonagenarian Maurice Koenig in “Social Security,” opening June 14 at Westfield Playhouse.
“This show spoke to me, because when I was in New York, I was able to meet some artistic people. The man that I play is a 90-year-old art critic,” Smith said. While art criticism has nothing to do with Smith’s real life, he said, “That whole Manhattan, there’s really nothing like it.”
The adult comedy, in two acts, drew him in.
The show also features upper-class Manhattan art gallery owners David Kahn (Eric Shaver of Greenwood) and Barbara Kahn (Ka’Lena Cuevas of Fishers) whose lives are upended when Barbara’s housewife sister Trudy Heyman (Lisa Wariner of Westfield) leave their mother Sophie Greengrass (Susan Hill of Noblesville) on the couple's doorstep while Trudy and her husband Martin Heyman (Thom Johnson of Westfield) head to Buffalo, N.Y., to rescue their sexually precocious college student.
This all takes place in Long Island, N.Y., what Smith calls a completely other world.
“It’s a raw comedy. It’s a farce. It’s a play of quips and glib witticisms and overwrought people worrying about their daughter ultimately finding love in Manhattan,” he said.
“Social Security,” is a play by Andrew Bergman, and runs three weekends, through June 30. It’s an adult comedy, Rated PG-13.
“This is really not a kids show. There’s a lot of sexual content, and you should take that into consideration, maybe look into the show a little bit before you decide to bring anybody younger than an older teenager to the show,” Smith said. “...because of conversations about sex, and it’s also a sexual comedy.”
Smith, who was nominated for two Encore Association Best Major Supporting Actor in a Drama awards during Westfield’s 2017-18 season, for “The Homecoming” and “Picnic,” credits his nominations to play director Jen Otterman, who is directing “Social Security.”
While this isn’t a drama, like he is most accustomed, he is learning comedy from the best, show director Jen Otterman.
“To me it’s just following the script. It’s all there on the pages. Jen Otterman, our director, is very, very good about seeing comic images. She can see how she wants people posed, and how she wants words freighted in each sentence. She is extremely detailed. When you have an Otterman show, and I’ve been in four, whatever success you have individually is because of her absolute precise direction. Don’t look here, look there. She doesn’t leave anything to chance. If you do what she tells you, in the way that she tells you, and the comedy is on the page, it comes. You don’t have to be tremendous ad libber.”
Smith said, I can do it. I can get the timing. I understand which lines are supposed to be the laugh lines. It’s harder for me than drama.”
...But in the show like this, I can do it. You have to have a good director.”
Otterman, a retired drama teacher, has directed more than 50 productions at Hamilton Southeastern Schools. “As for comedic timing,” she said, “actors must live the circumstances of a comedic play as if it is really a drama to them. They have to keep the timing and pace moving and earn any pauses that are played. A sluggish tempo kills a comedy. If they deliver a funny line, as if they think it is funny, it ruins the comedic effect. Lines have to be glib.”
Wariner plays the Jewish mother, “a really fun, over-the-top, character.” She agreed with Smith. “Comedy is a lot harder than drama in many respects, because you have to play to the crisis. A lot of it is using your face in reacting ... Jen is very instructional. And yes, she has taught us all a lot….”
Shaver, who’s new to the playhouse and was referred by friend, Cuevas, said he’s probably the one who’s learned the most from the director. “Jen’s been incredible, everybody’s been incredible,” said Shaver, who has had to brush up on his mechanics since his high school and college days. As a teen, he played Big Jule in “Guys & Dolls” at Perry Meridian High School.
Otterman, whose assistant director is Julie Wallyn, wanted to bring the show to Westfield Playhouse after playing the part of Trudy at The Red Barn Summer Theatre in Frankfort some years ago.
Two of Otterman’s dear friends, one who she has known since she was 2 years old, is from Madison, Wis., and the other a good friend from high school, who lives in South Carolina, drove to Noblesville and spent three days helping Otterman build the show’s set. “We all three built the set and had it up in 3 days,” she said.
Smith, who is thrilled about the show’s opening, is also producer for the Playhouse’s summer youth production, “The Adventures of the Speckled Band,” which attracted a couple of dozen youth to auditions this week, and also the 2020 summer youth production, “30 Reasons Not to be in a Play.”
Smith, a theater board member, is looking forward to a ground-breaking this summer for a new Westfield Playhouse, which will build a new facility in downtown Westfield, near Westfield City Hall. While the building won’t be open in time for the first show of the 2019-20 season, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the new facility is expected to open during the season.

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