“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.