‘Empty Nesters’ never gets off the ground

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John Walker and Pamela Gaye Walker in appear in Garret Jon Groenveld's “The Empty Nesters
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If empty nest syndrome is an issue worth exploring, which it undoubtedly is, then Garret Jon Groenveld’s new two-hander, “The Empty Nesters,” makes a valiant attempt to do so.

Unfortunately the short play never rises above sit-com level.

One of the two premieres chosen by PlayGround — the company devoted to nurturing new work by local playwrights — for full productions this season, “The Empty Nesters” focuses on Frances and Greg, a squabbling couple who’ve just seen their youngest child off to college and are now taking a little vacation at Grand Canyon.

But instead of enjoying their new freedom, they’re facing a marital crisis.

High-strung Frances is fretting over why their daughter has not phoned in yet. She also has a hysterical, meant-to-be-funny meltdown when she thinks she’s misplaced her address book.

More importantly, long-festering frustrations with her husband—of the men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus variety—are rising to the surface now that the kids are gone.

For example, why can’t he sense when she’s unhappy without her having to say so? Why must he watch “Sports Center” on TV so darn much? Why does he refer to their son as “the boy”? Why is he so grumpy about the everyday annoyances of life?

They’re both wondering if “the boy” is gay, but that thread goes nowhere, nor does a hint that Greg feels alienated from his son.

For his part, Greg is eager to please his seething wife — if only she would tell him how.

“Why doesn’t anyone talk about this time?” wonders Frances, of the oddly empty period between when the last kid leaves home and when you start taking the grandchildren to Disneyland. (Surely women do, amongst themselves, though.)

Frances and Greg are meant to be ordinary people struggling with a problem that many parents can understand. But theatrically speaking, ordinary can seem — well, bland. And married couple Pamela Gaye Walker and John Walker, despite their impressive acting credentials, have not found a way to make these rather tiresome characters stage-worthy.

Playing one sour note throughout, she’s believable but unappealing.

He’s believable, too, and more simpatico, as the hangdog husband. (It might have gone the other way if the playwright had been a woman.) Director Amy Glazer, who usually works stage magic, was unable to make these thin characters, or their concerns, matter. For that to happen, Groenveld would need to dig much deeper.

REVIEW

The Empty Nesters

Presented by PlayGround and Virago Theatre Company

Where: Thick House, 1695 18th St., S.F.

When: Select Thursdays-Sundays; closes June 14

Tickets: $25 to $55

Contact: (415) 992-6677, http://playground-sf.org/emptynesters

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