More surprising is the way the congenial tone of the play is betrayed by the speech McKeever gives Avery near the end of the play in order to make sense of his tortured homecoming. McKeever is too talented a playwright to have a character simply spell out the obvious. How he got himself -- and his own character, for Pete's sake -- into the sentimental morass that ends the play is a mystery. This type of family comedy, which can certainly survive the addition of layered meanings and subtlety, is nonetheless too delicate to sustain the emotional kneading McKeever puts it through here.

The playwright's radical shift in tone gets his director into trouble, too. Up until the point when the action takes its unfortunate turn for the maudlin, Barry Steinman's steering is confident and creative. He's deft at evoking the Suttons' outlandishness through their physical comedy: One hilarious scene has Stanford herding the unsuspecting Gillian out of the house for a game of midnight golf by pulling her along with his golf club. If only the director could manhandle the melodrama. When Avery utters the one dark truth no one in the family will admit to, Steinman has Avery's mother deliver a sharp slap to her son's face that draws all the air out of the room. It's too big a moment, hugely inappropriate, and the play -- by now drowning in mush -- never recovers.

The actors, however, do survive. Whatever my misgivings about 37 Postcards, they're not for lack of a sturdy cast. The cast members triumph over McKeever's fumbling script and Guillermo Mediavilla's odd costume choices, too. (Do the good citizens of Darien, when they dress for dinner, actually outfit themselves as though they were supping at the White House? I don't think so.) Leila Piedrafita, an actress born to play Noël Coward heroines (and dressed here as though she had walked in from a nearby production of Private Lives), infuses Gillian with a personality that's at once fragile and flabbergasted.

As Avery's parents, Sally Levin and John Barnett are wonderfully demented in the way that people who create their own reality ought to be. Kimberly Daniel, cloaked in a series of red-and-orange dresses (and a very un-Wasp-y head of orange hair), is pleasantly engaging as Aunt Ester. And Ellen Davis' Nana is deliciously crotchety. As for McKeever the actor, his performance as Avery -- solid, thoughtful, emotionally grounded -- transcends the shortcomings of the role. He'll survive 37 Postcards and so will the rest of us, moose in the bedroom and all.

37 Postcards.
Written by Michael McKeever. Directed by Barry Steinman. Starring McKeever, John Barnett, Kimberly Daniel, Ellen Davis, Sally Levin, and Leila Piedrafita. Through September 6. New Theatre, 65 Almeria Ave., Coral Gables, 305-443-5909.

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