‘All the Days’ features an odd mix of cutting comedy and sentimentality

Caroline Aaron, left, and Stephanie Janssen co-star in "All the Days," which is at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through May 29.


Caroline Aaron, left, and Stephanie Janssen co-star in “All the Days,” which is at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton through May 29.

“Go to school,” Ruth tells her grandson, Jared, in the comedy, “All the Days.”

“It’s Sunday,” he replies.

“Go anyway,” says Ruth.

Ruth — played by Caroline Aaron in this new play, which is currently playing at the Berlind Theatre of the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton — has reacted to the recent death of her son by lashing out at everyone around her, with nasty put-downs and breathtakingly cynical observations. It’s gotten to the point where her daughter Miranda (Stephanie Janssen) and sister Monica (Leslie Ayvazian) don’t want anything to do with her.

“You think I pushed you away?” Miranda tells her. “I didn’t push. I ran.”

One immediately sides with the sensible Miranda — who has run so far from her overbearing Jewish mother that she’s now, literally, Christian — and with Monica as well. Ruth really is a horror.

And yet … playwright Sharyn Rothstein can’t resist getting sentimental in the second act, giving Ruth reconciliations with family members, plus not just one but two love interests — her shlubby ex-husband Delmore (Ron Orbach), who yearns to get back together with her, and the suave herbalist Baptiste (Raphael Nash Thompson), whom she meets on an unlikely blind date. A blind date during which she’s her usual, difficult self, but Baptiste just smiles warmly, and asks to see her again.

Rothstein’s post-Hurricane Sandy drama “By the Water,” which was presented by Premiere Stages at Kean University in Union last year, had something of a similar sensibility, with family members frustrated, practically to the breaking point, by each other. But that was a more serious work: In “All the Days,” Rothstein is veering close to sitcom territory, with a nonstop barrage of zippy one-liners and a happy ending that seems more contrived than earned.

Yes, I laughed at some of the jokes, and felt a little uplifted when various characters finally realized that underneath it all, they really do love each other. But I have the same reaction to episodes of “Friends” where, despite the squabbling, everyone hugs it out in the end.

I never felt — not for a second — that I was watching something particularly deep or meaningful. And for Rothstein, who showed great promise in “By the Water,” that’s definitely a step back.

“All the Days” runs through May 29; visit mccarter.org.

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