Interplayers stages ‘Privilege,’ a touching story of brotherly love

Bryton Martin, left, as Charlie and Chris Rounsville, as Porter, compete in a match of Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots in Interplayers’ production of “Privilege,” which runs through March 12. (Dan Pelle)
Bryton Martin, left, as Charlie and Chris Rounsville, as Porter, compete in a match of Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots in Interplayers’ production of “Privilege,” which runs through March 12. (Dan Pelle)

Play comes from the mind of one of the creators of ‘American Pie’

Does the name Paul Weitz ring a bell? He was one of the two brothers responsible for directing the movie “American Pie,” a 1999 teenage sex comedy famous for its naughty cherry pie scene.

So you might be surprised to hear what the New York Times theater critic had to say about the 2005 play “Privilege,” also written by Weitz, also about teens:

• “Delicately funny.”

• “Clear-eyed.”

• “A touching hymn to the sustaining bonds of brotherly love.”

“Privilege” is about two brothers, ages 12 and 16, in Manhattan whose father is arrested for insider trading. It was greeted with respect and awards when it premiered off-Broadway in 2005.

Actually, this was not as big a surprise as you might think. Weitz had already impressed critics with his post-“American Pie” movies, notably “About a Boy” and “In Good Company.” And he had success with one previous off-Broadway play, “Roulette.”

Then came “Privilege,” which was reviewed with unusual enthusiasm by Charles Isherwood of the New York Times.

“It is rare enough to encounter fully imagined men and women onstage these days …,” wrote Isherwood. “To encounter two youngsters drawn with such tender regard for their real and complicated humanity is nearly miraculous.”

What he and other critics liked about “Privilege” was its subtle exploration of the difficulties of wealth and privilege.

Many of us might be tempted to say, “Bring those difficulties on!” but Weitz and his brother, Chris, can’t dismiss the issue so easily. They grew up on Park Avenue, sons of a rich and well-connected fashion designer, John Weitz, and an Oscar-nominated actress, Susan Kohner.

In the play, the father is a social-striving Wall Street wheeler-dealer. Weitz told New York magazine that his parents were the sort of parents that the “Privilege” couple could only aspire to be.

But he certainly has an unusual insight into the way such an upbringing creates both arrogance and emotional vulnerability. Being raised in Manhattan, he said, gives one the false impression that you’re faster and smarter than everybody else in the country.

And, Isherwood wrote, “Weitz understands how the culture of wealth can weaken the bonds between parents and children, leaving the kids to look for emotional sustenance from the natural substitute, the hands-on housekeeper.”

Maria Caprile directs the Interplayers production. The brothers are played by Christopher Rounsville and Bryton Martin. The rest of the cast includes Tami Grady Rotchford, Sarah Denison and Jeffrey Sanders.

Interplayers artistic director Reed McColm said he chose the play because it accomplished several goals: It says something about the economy; it’s about a recognizable family; and it’s amusing and touching at the same time.

As for Weitz, he told New York magazine he knew exactly which pitfall to avoid:

“I realized that if the audience felt like I was asking them to feel sorry for these rich people, I was in serious trouble.”

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