(Helen Shaw’s article appeared in TimeOut New York, 3/3.)
A woman putters around the stage, adjusting a paper grocery bag from Giant, plugging in a clock radio. We can hear an old woman's voice nattering away on a recording (“And then he took all the black forks! You know my black forks”), and slowly—as she dons a saggy bra and wig—young Elizabeth Dement becomes 80-year-old June, waddling slightly in her baggy shorts and curly gray ’do. Under her breath, Dement takes over June's running patter, picking up from the real recording. In a way, this is what playwright Christina Masciotti has done in the sly comic thriller Social Security, using her keen ear for inflection, malapropism and dialect to convert her own mother's actual neighbor into a wonderful stage creation.
June recently lost her husband to cancer, but she's surrounded by people who seem willing to help. Her disgraced-podiatrist landlord, the mustachioed Wayne (T. Ryder Smith), and her massage-therapist neighbor Sissy (Cynthia Hopkins) drop by constantly, so they can take June to get groceries (“Oh! We should get them Jell-Os with the fruit in 'em!”) or to the bank to cash her social-security checks. They're willing to lean in close to June, who is deaf as a post, writing her notes and negotiating her strangely prickly dependence. The comedy is immediate, but the drama emerges imperceptibly, a slowly dawning realization that Wayne's generosity isn't all it seems. “He grew up in a cave by wolves,” warns Sissy. “Very quiet, very low-key wolves.”