by Richard Campbell
When we peek in upon the crazy world of Abby and Marilyn who find themselves roommates at the Bristol Place Senior Center, South Boston native Pulitzer prize winning playwright David Lindsey Abaire, brings genuine funny to the Calderwood Center, tinted with empathetic poignancy for his character’s dilemmas. The device is a series of revenge plots inspired by a mutual bet to win room rights; by manipulating the Senior Center staff, and relatives into off site episodes that reveal devilish, and sometimes shocking episodes, punctuated by a bevy of crackly one liners, amusing choreography, the story presents a heart rending cultural commentary on aging.
Nancy Carroll as Abby the sardonic, sarcastic, and understated wit brings verve and control to her embittered character whose reflections upon others sometimes spews hateful fury between clever self-deprecating cuts. She makes the perfect foil to almost clownish Marilyn, played cunningly by Annie Golden, who bounces and floats around the room like a beach ball of giddiness and good will. What starts as a bet, turns into an odd odyssey. We could only wish that the lives of every senior center was this unexpectedly entertaining. Abaire is a professional heart string puller as well, and much of the play’s mechanism relies on surprises that this reviewer will not spoil.
The apparent back story to Abby’s meanness to her roommate who is impinging on her long held single room status is of course, not merely disappointing loneliness of old age; but bitterness about being robbed of happiness by her disappointing son who hasn’t visited her for five years. But that’s just the subtext for the hilarious fun and game extremes promulgated by the bet: that each character will be able to derive certain emotions from the other. Abby claims she can make perennially happy Marilyn mad, and Marilyn claims she can make emotionally cloaked Abby scared. The staging for these episodes by director Jessica Stone is pretty flawless, and keeps us moving from one practical joke to another with clockwork timing; though it freezes up a little too much in moments of pathos. Here we are lucky for the cute transitional choreography of Misha Shields which provides appropriate satire punctuated by everything from crazy elevator music to jazz classics.
The secondary characters in the drama add their own form of levity, and particularly in the case of caretaker Scotty played with fluid familiarity by Ugo Chukwu- the audience is primed well for the sassy jokes of both the ladies. The usual repertoire of senior center banter about food and ailments is given a boost with his acting histrionics, cameos, and his diplomatic caretaker negotiations. Laura Latreille adeptly takes on Marilyn’s visiting daughter, Colleen, who masterminds and celebrates schemes with the appropriate snappiness- matching her mother’s bubbly personality. Her husband, Derek, is portrayed with standout skill by Richard Prioleau revealing an abundance of solid acting gifts. Bookmark his name: he’s destined to become a lead actor in a major television or movie production shortly. Eric Miller’s stoically embraced his performance as Benjamin, which is perhaps the hardest role in the play. The audience waits a pretty long time to discover Abby’s fore shadowed back story, and my comment above about the movement in pathos applies directly to the scene he shares with Abby.
As a play of unusual levity given the subject, that reveals an athletic ensemble mixed with young promising actors and veterans who know how to push your buttons, Abaire has stretched his theatrical talents like taffy once again. This is a production with the traditional high values of the Huntington Theatre Company: meticulously designed gliding sets by Tobin Ost, spot on costumes by Gabrielle Barry, great on screen graphic effects Lucy Mackinnion, clever sound and original music by Mark Bennet, and eye popping lighting designs by David Weiner. In short, the whole package is wrapped up very nicely for the kind of light theater made perfect for summer stock. Playing at the Calderwood Center for the Arts in the South End until July 2nd.