SALT LAKE CITY — For everything there is a season. This season is winter and the topic is one’s situation of experiencing the winter of life. Babcock Performing Readers and Walk-Ons Incorporated performed The Senior Theatre Project: Five short plays by, for and about seniors on February 11, 2010 at the Olpin Union Little Theatre on the University of Utah Campus. The five plays lasted just over an hour. They represented vignettes of humanity, of everyman’s inevitable state of being “elderly”. Elaine Jarvik, authored or coauthored four of the five plays. Her wit and language of the elderly could have been full of dry clichés and overused stereotypes. Instead she takes us into the character’s lives with a sense of real people experiencing real life situations that everyone can relate to in a humorous way.
In the play, Dead Right, we meet Penny and Bill at the breakfast table reading the paper. Bill notices that Penny’s friend, Francie, has died and Penny is outraged at the photo they chose with the bad lighting that showed her wrinkles and the way they portrayed Francie in the obituary. Penny enthusiastically played by Jayne Luke continues to go on about how her own obituary should be. She begins quizzing husband, Bill, played by Ron Frederickson on how much he knows about her and suggesting what he should put in her obituary. At one point Bill comments that she would want people to think she was prettier and smarter than she was. He simply states he wants his own obituary to read, “Bill was a nice, decent guy”. This play reminds me of the time a teacher held up a picture of our class and said, “What makes this a good picture”? The answer of course, it is good if it makes me look good. Witty and well acted, I didn’t want it to end.
The second play, Yogurt Security, coauthored by Robert F. Benjamin takes place in an airport security line. An elderly couple gets caught with two containers of yogurt which is over the allotted 3.4 ounces of liquid allowed through the check point. Jayne Luke and Ron Frederickson play the bewildered vacationing elderly couple with Christy Summerhays playing the frustrated but patient security personnel. Poignant of the day we live in, relevant and ridiculous, yes. But, if you have ever had to throw away your chap stick or mascara (yes, this happened to me) or slug down the last few ounces of the beverage you are drinking before you go through security at the airport only to go through the line and go directly to the nearest snack station and buy another, you will truly appreciate this humorous story. After all, you eat yogurt, is it really a liquid?
The next play also coauthored by Benjamin, simply titled Stuck, portrays the frightful ride one takes into the world of online dating. Steve Phillips and Jayne Luke are the courageous couple who decide to take their first date on a rollercoaster. It happens to breaks down with them stuck high in the air. Luke’s facial expressions were fantastic. I was living the ride with her. Phillips portrayed the ultra super-phobic personality well. Does everything someone posts on their dating site truly reflect who they are? In this play the characters face their fears. Luke’s character eventually shows a vulnerability which helps them make a true dating connection. Issues brought up in this play may make it easier for others to make one too.
Next was a selection from The Trip to Bountiful, by Horton Foote, was presented. We meet two women on a bus on their way home. Christy Summerhays plays the young woman married to a service man who is going home to live with her parents. Jayne Luke plays an elderly woman who is basically running away from her life to return to her home town. She feels if she can only return there and work the land with her hands, she could live another twenty years. In Bountiful, she has a friend to stay with. One of the lines I enjoyed in the play was that when your son marries you lose a son, but when your daughter marries, you gain a son. I recently returned “home” to Indiana for Christmas. The reunion with my family was wonderful. But, I have to say, like the play, the romanticism of returning there was surreal, the anticipation filled me with excitement and a sense of something coming which gave my life an extra purpose, which ultimately was unfulfilled. I wonder if in the full production her experience is what she anticipates or if she also is unfulfilled. I think many people long for the security and romance of the “home” of their youth. The acting was quite convincing and true to the characters.
The final play was Together at Last, coauthored by Jarvik and Benjamin. In the opening scene we see Edward, played by Ron Frederickson, with a bunch of flowers speaking to his first wife at her gravesite. In comes his second wife, Patsy, played by Jayne Luke. Edward has promised his first wife that he would visit her every year on their wedding anniversary. Patsy notices that Edward’s name is on the headstone and a riotous dialogue ensues. Patsy doesn’t want to be left, “wandering around like a bag lady”. She wants Edward to make the choice to be buried next to her. My favorite line was Edward’s when he tells her, “We’re not going to be dating we’re going to be decaying”. Ultimately Edward sums up his feelings that he can love a wife and a memory of a wife. Also, Edward makes the best “man” statement ever, which is “the lot is already paid for.” A statement that was obviously funny to all in attendance.
Do to the nature of the night’s staging staging, the set consisted of a few tables and chairs, which could easily have been black boxes and worked fine. The actors had to stay stationary for the rollercoaster in Stuck and for the bus in The Trip to Bountiful. This didn’t bother me because I was drawn in to what the characters were saying and the plays were short enough that they didn’t loose my attention. Bravo to the sound technician who did a fantastic job. Bravo to director, Justin Ivie. Jayne Luke, you are my hero, for making me laugh and laugh.
This was a one evening production at the University of Utah. A must see if they come your way.
The Senior Theatre Project has brought touring productions of short plays for, by and about seniors to retirement residences and senior centers in Utah since 2006.
Walk-Ons, Inc. produces live theatrical performances for audiences who are often underserved. They are dedicated to performing plays in public parks, libraries, homeless shelters, community centers and other public venues.
The Babcock Performing Readers is a democratic organization open to anyone who is interested in supporting our artistic mission: “Bringing Literature to Life Through Live Performance.” For more information visit www.babcockreaders.com.