Tom Fool review – money bites into deeply felt family drama | Theater

OHats off to the quiet, burst performance. Beginning as a light-hearted portrait of a lovely family, this 1978 piece morphs into a deeply felt character study of three individuals sadly pulling in different directions. Written by German playwright Franz Xaver Kroetz and translated by Estella Schmid and Anthony Vivis, this Tom Fool production is a gentle exploration of how money weaves its way through the existing cracks of daily life, adding pressure up until they crack.

At the head of the family is annoyed Otto, an auto mechanic embodied with remarkable elasticity by Michael Shaeffer, both totally proud and deeply unhappy in himself. The supporter is Anna Francolini’s unflappable Martha, eager to find a life beyond chores and orders. Lounging around them is their son Ludwig (Jonah Rzeskiewicz), desperate to forge his own path.

Remarkable elasticity… Michael Shaeffer in Tom Fool at the Orange Tree Theatre. Photography: Richard Davenport

Kroetz beautifully captures the ups and downs of everyday life in this family, as the days are derailed by the ordinary things that worry us. These fragments start out sparse and comical, but gain weight as work and value become inextricably linked.

Conversations about money run through every outing and argument, with every brand considered. Special meals are marred by fear of being duped by waiters, and when watching the royal wedding on TV, all Otto can think about is how much it costs. Pride is also a key player, as Ludwig wants to get a job as a bricklayer to start earning his own money, but Otto refuses to let his son become “just” a laborer like him; you have to see them rise in the world. When Otto rages and messes up the house, Martha measures the financial damage.

Diyan Zora’s production is smooth and tactile, with each nervous gaze adding to our understanding of the changing family dynamics. On a naturalist decor imagined by Zoë Hurwitz, with a brown folding sofa and ceiling fan, the realism is interrupted by flashes of projected scene titles. These add another touch of humor to the already sharp comedy of their conversations.

Tom Fool is a shrewd realization of class limits, dissatisfaction and failure to achieve childhood dreams. But as the characters focus more and more on how their jobs define them in this capitalist world, Martha and Ludwig begin to step outside the other boundaries that limit them. Both dark and funny, Zora brought to life a tender portrayal of a finely drawn family struggling to weigh what their love is worth.