Undermain Theatre’s season opener, Profanity, pieces together the story of a crooked family at the moment at which their corruption threatens to undo them. It’s a heightened family drama laced with meaning, given a thoughtful and often humorous treatment by the cast and creative team.
The Schneider brothers have betrayed one another at every turn in life, and now they struggle to keep the family real estate business afloat amid stiff competition. To get younger brother Leo (Michael Federico) organized, Gersh (Bruce DuBose) forces him to hire a secretary. When Vivian (Shannon Kearns-Simmons) and her daughter Esther (a delightfully shrewd Katy Tye) uncover compromising secrets, the men have to confront the future of the business and their own lives.
Playwright Sylvan Oswald builds his play with narrative scraps that he weaves together in a linear but metaphysical plot. One moment Gersh lectures his brother about showing up to meetings; the next he chases young Esther through the sea of file cabinets playing a game of Nazi War Camp.
Swift transitions from the present into the realm of Gersh’s mind carry significance for a Jewish-American man in a post- World War II world. Paul Semrad vivifies these abstract moments with canny sound design, adding faint gunshots as a sinister veil over the games or eerie music as the mood shifts.
Despite its straightforward plot about two brothers who took advantage of the real estate market, the play reaches for meaning about religion and familial ties. Throughout the play, Gersh works diligently on his memoir. When he tries to describe it to his brother, he says, “It’s a kind of history and kind of a catalogue and all of the things that came before.”
The same could be said for Profanity: The fragments come together to paint a portrait of lives — the blemishes lurking between the lines.
Profanity runs though October 12 at Undermain Theatre.