The world premiere of the comic drama by Allison Gregory has well-earned laughs. It concerns a dead mother who is still very much present and her son-in-law, who won't go away even though he is divorced from her daughter.
That alone could be an excellent setup for a sitcom, but Gregory, here interpreted by director Louis Tyrrell, is interested in something much deeper and less tangible. On the surface, the plot putters around a family's negotiating the housing-market crisis, but what the play is really getting into is an examination of the meaning of home, the palpable emotions and visceral memories that reside in a house.
Dani (Erin Joy Schmidt) and her brother, Matthew (Matt Stabile), want to sell the family home now that their mother, Carol (Barbara Bradshaw), has passed away after a long battle with cancer. But Dani's ex-husband, Harry (Todd Allen Durkin), who moved in with Carol to help nurse her during her illness, insists that she promised him the house. The situation is frustrating for the neighbor and real estate agent Paula (Elizabeth Dimon), and baffling for Tawnee (Jody-Ann Henry), a young friend of Harry.
The cast does something that is a marvel to watch: revealing their character's feelings and thoughts to the audience seemingly before the characters themselves fully realize them. And the actors have been given some great lines.
"Sometimes, a man has to hold the world in the back of his throat, under his tongue," Harry says.
"There has to be something in Greek literature about this," Matthew says, referring to the living arrangements of Carol and Harry.
Even the relatively simple, "You're a wonderful family" has humor and heft when deployed with just the right inflection and precise timing by Paula.
But flowing throughout the play are fine little textural shifts, from emotional shadings to turn-on-a-dime flashbacks. That, too, is a marvel to watch, especially when masterfully maintained over two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
"Uncertain Terms" will run through March 29 at Arts Garage, 180 NE First St., in Delray Beach. Showtimes are 7:30 Wednesdays through Fridays, and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets cost $30-$45. To order, call 561-450-6357 or go to ArtsGarage.org.