Funny, touching, and bittersweet
NEW YORK—"Old is In" as the song goes, with its lyrics projected on a screen, complete with a bouncing ball, during Luigi Creatore's Flamingo Court.
Amusingly corny, with more than a few elements of “The Golden Girls” and “The Sopranos,” the play looks at the choices, responsibilities, and lasting legacies that come with age.
Starring acting veterans Jamie Farr and Anita Gillette, each playing multiple roles, the work consists of three separate stories set in different apartments in the same Florida housing complex. (The play is subtitled "A Comedy in Three Condos," which is a bit of a misnomer as one of the pieces is certainly no laughing matter.)
Things start off with "Angelina." Gillette, playing the title character, is a 60-something woman spending her days watching soap operas and taking care of her bedridden husband Frank. Her only joy is her daily coffee sessions with neighbors Marie (Lucy Martin) and Dominic (Farr).
It quickly becomes obvious that widower Dominic has strong feelings for Angelina. After learning Dominic's intentions, Marie takes Angelina aside, whereby Angelina confesses that Frank has been dead for two years. It seems that when she first moved in (after Frank's passing), everybody thought her husband was alive. Angelina, too embarrassed to tell anyone the truth, has kept the deception going. In the meantime, Dominic decides to take matters into his own hands by killing the already deceased Frank so Angelina will be free to marry him.
The play is a story about second chances and starting over. Both Angelina and Dominic struggle to find the courage to confess their sins to one another, leading to some hilarious consequences (and perhaps the fastest response to a marriage proposal on record).
Gillette is good in her role as a woman of fire and passion who has kept these feelings submerged for far too long, while Farr is a hoot in his role, playing a man who will kill for love but still has his own code of honor. Martin is fine as the confidante (and nosey friend). Also in the cast (voice only) are Alex Bond and Tibor Feldman.
Things take a much darker turn with "Clara." In this two-character work, Farr and Gillette play a long-time married couple on their last day of living together. Clara (Gillette) is suffering from dementia and her husband Arthur (Farr), who is no longer able to take care of her, has decided to send her to a "home" where she can be properly looked after. As he gently tries to explain the situation to his bewildered wife, she begins recalling incidents from the couple's past, awakening long-forgotten memories in Arthur, ones both touching and painful—memories that also serve to show the audience the deep history the couple has with one another.
This is a story that touches on one of people's deepest fears: What happens when we can no longer care for ourselves?
It's interesting to note, via her few moments of lucidity, that Clara is probably the stronger of the two and remains so, even as her mind is slipping away. As such, it will be she who decides what will happen and to whom. Farr nicely plays a man pushed to the breaking point yet wanting only the best for the woman he loves, while Gillette portrays a woman determined to live life on her own terms to the bitter end.
In "Harry," the final work of the evening, Farr plays the 89-year-old title character, a sort of crotchety eccentric so desperate for company that he makes up excuses for people to visit—such as Mark (Herbert Rubens) who comes to give Harry a free hearing test. Harry's only family is his daughter Charity (Martin), who has been waiting for him to die so she can get her hands on his money.
Eventually, Harry decides to spend what time he has left by living life to the fullest. To that end, he buys a new wardrobe, starts thinking about taking a cruise, and has Mark arrange for him to spend some time with a hooker, specifically one Chi Chi La Boo Boo (Gillette), a working girl who caters to "the cholesterol set."
Just then, Charity and her husband (Joe Vincent) arrive for a surprise birthday party, leading Harry to pass Chi Chi off as his new fiancé. Things soon take a sudden and unexpected turn, but Harry has more than one final surprise up his sleeve to make sure Charity gets exactly what she deserves.
Farr and Gillette play their characters to the hilt, with Gillette a scream in sunglasses, gold lamé pants, and platform heels. (Farr's costume is almost as outlandish—nice work by costume designer Carol Sherry.) Rubens nicely plays the understanding new friend (actually a plot device to deliver the necessary exposition by Farr), while Martin and Vincent work well as the scheming daughter and henpecked husband.
Creatore's script is strong throughout, though some plays delve deeper than others. Steven Yuhasz's direction keeps things moving smoothly, injecting the right amounts of humor, dreaminess, and pathos when the script calls for it.
James Youmans's set delivers the desired effect, nicely creating the locations of the stories, while Herrick Goldman's lighting and David A. Arnold's sound design are also good.
New World Stages
340 West 50th Street
Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
Running time: 1 Hour, 55 Minutes
Judd Hollander is the New York correspondent for the London publication, The Stage.