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University of Massachusetts Amherst

Family Business Center

"Wait Till Your Father Gets Home"

Debuts To National Press, Rave Reviews

by Shel Horowitz

It's not often that a UMass Amherst Family Business Center event receives national coverage. In fact, until the June program, it had never happened before.

Yet, "Wait Till Your Father Gets Home," the Family Business Center's second theater production, was featured in Nation's Business, Entrepreneur, the Boston Globe and on National Public Radio.

It also received accolades from attenders (98% of whom reported that it exceeded their expectations). Among the comments: "The whole play was great! Go national!"…"The production was terrific and discussion between family members made for a great night- delighted to be there." … "This play gets everyone thinking. Very thought provoking, this is a gift." … "I had some skepticism about the idea of drama as a vehicle for teaching and learning about corporate and family behavior, but I am now a believer…There was real drama. Using the granddaughter as the chorus with a camcorder was a brilliant coup."

Following on the successful 1996 production of "The Perils of Pauline's Family Business"-which has been touring the country since its New England debut-the play features a family grappling with major clashes. Twin brothers Jake (Timothy Holcomb) and Sol Schwartz (Tim Van Ness) have very different personalities and management styles, and both have been kept at bay by their father Izzy (Nick Simms), the CEO (and a colorful character indeed!).

In addition to the hostile dynamic between the brothers, Izzy brings his own difficulties into the fray. Izzy is not a communicator; when he announces his marriage to the marketing director, his sons aren't even aware of the three-year relationship. When he dies suddenly during a crisis, he has not stated his wishes for a successor.

The glue of the play is Izzy's granddaughter Josie (Toni Bergins). In the best Shakespearean fashion, her acerbic observations-under the guise of recording the family business interplay for a school video project-provide an elegant and entertaining way to cast an objective eye on all the family goings-on. For instance: "Isn't it interesting that we have shares because we can't share?" and, noting Freud's comment that all you need is work and love, "He didn't study family business much."

Izzy himself makes his share of sharp observations. Just before his fatal heart attack, he wonders, "How can you pass the torch to boys who still shouldn't be playing with matches?" Though the characters can't hear him, the audience gets to tune in after his death, as he drops in on his funeral to keep an eye on how things are turning out.

All the characters have at least a few great lines. Izzy's bride Sarah (Christine Stevens) laments at the funeral on her four-day marriage: "The wedding pictures won't even be ready till Tuesday." And Jake, during one of his many arguments with Sol, cries out, "I can't believe I shared a womb with you!"

The play was written by FBC Director Ira Bryck and actor/psychologist Erik Muten, and performed by DramaWorks-a new local company whose members include actors from Valley Playback Theater and Hampshire Shakespeare Co., among other places. Original music was written by Michael Morgan (chair of UMass Department of Communications). Muten directed the play, and Bryck produced it. Bergins, Simms, Bryck, Muten, and Van Ness are veterans of the "Pauline" production.

In its preview piece, on June 3, The Globe noted, "Bryck…made the 90-minute play…'interactive,' opening it to the audience for two discussion periods.

"'We wanted to develop a family that was chock-full of the typical family business situations, including who should run the business, realizing it is not a safety net and employment agency for other family members.'"

In addition to the Globe and NPR, the production received local coverage in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and Campus Chronicle.

Bryck and Muten call their work a "dramedy," combining drama and comedy. Using a similar interactive format to Perils of Pauline, the theater company stops the action here and there to let the audience process the issues coming up.

Of course, this format means it comes out a bit differently each time. During the June 17 performance, audience members were clearly actively engaged in the play, its issues, and its resolution. There was not much sympathy for Izzy, who was seen as creating the climate of hostility, and who was also criticized for putting too many eggs in one basket-with 30% of revenues coming from one currently unhappy client. Many participants felt, as well, that his sons were not suited to rescue the business. One comment during the first discussion: "Blood doesn't make a good business." And in the second discussion, "The brothers have to get points of agreement first. Do any of them even want to be in the business-or do they just not see options?"

Also, like "Pauline," the play grapples with issues of communication, succession, the roles of different family members, differences in generational values, and a company trying to stay afloat in changing times.

There are, however, a number of major differences between "Wait" and "Pauline."

"Wait" is a musical. And "Wait," while certainly universal in its message, arises out of Bryck's own cultural milieu: New York Jewish business owners. The play is sprinkled liberally with Yiddish-all approved by the Yiddish educator at the National Yiddish Bookcenter at Hampshire College -and "Wait" takes the issues to the next level, bringing in such outside influences as the largest customer shopping for cheaper deals from foreign competitors, and the unctuous banker, Cassius King (Eric Muten-say the character's name slowly!) who shakes off the role of close family friend and threatens to cut off financing at the time when it's needed most.

How does it all come out? Well, that wouldn't be fair if you get a chance to see it. Just remember what Ira Bryck said during the discussion: "Yiddish theater always leaves the surprises for the end." Meanwhile, with the success and critical acclaim for the first two productions, there are bound to be more in the future. Don't miss them.

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