Also see Fred's interview with Mark Lamos, of Westport Country Playhouse
Lil (Lois Smith) will soon celebrate her 90th birthday by singing at a Manhattan club, accompanied by her musical grandson Tommy (Nick Blaemire) and his lanky girlfriend Deirdre (Lucy Walters). Lil and her longtime husband Charlie (David Margulies) are eighty-somethings who begin the play demonstrating that they: a) still love one another; and b) still disagree much of the time. Playwright Darci Picoult's opening scene is witty, sharp, and well crafted.
The opening storyline is about Lil as she preps for her big night. Charlie hopes to present a financial gift but it seems, at the very least, that he has lost his acumen and way with money. The focus of concern shifts to Charlie, who is slipping. The couple's daughter Stephanie (Kristine Nielsen), a divorcee, must grapple with parents whose brightest and most coherent days are in the past. Besides, Stephanie has her own problems.
Long Wharf's second stage is divided, by director Jo Bonney and designer Frank J. Alberino, into thirds. One watches, audience left to right, the bedroom, living room and kitchen. Bonney wisely utilizes a rear hallway as characters move from one locale to the next.
Lois Smith, having acted professionally since the 1950s, remains a magnetic presence. She commands attention and her performance demonstrates versatility. She is hurt or frenzied or worried. Besides, she is able to sing! Her rendition of "Stranger in Paradise" is, at once, sweet and resonant. David Margulies is an actor whose timing is a foremost attribute. He does not rush, allowing space for his lines to sit with theatergoers. The play allows Margulies the opportunity to garner more than a couple of laughsand he succeeds.
Lil's 90th might benefit, past midpoint, if Lil and Charlie demonstrate that they retain affection for one another. If that is implied, it isn't quite enough. Some of the play's riveting sequences include the elderly individuals railing at or about one another. Their daughter is fittingly distraught. Tommy attempts to facilitate while Deirdre (who sings and plays a few instruments) doesn't say a whole lot.
There is the troubling notion that Charlie has lost his grip on reality. What to do about a beloved husband, father, and grandfather who is failing? On the other hand, Lil needs to prepare for a hundred friends and family members who will watch and listen as she performs. Her longtime and beloved spouse cannot be trusted. Picoult is brave to take on this stressful, anxiety-producing scenario. Perhaps, without becoming overly sentimental, the writer might be able to create more tender snapshots during the second part of her play ... Is it still possible for Lil and Charlie to warmly care for one another? One believes this to be true. Showing enduring responses would further enhance Lil's 90th.
Lil's 90th continues at New Haven's Long Wharf Theatre through February 7th. For tickets, call the box office at (203) 787-4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.
- Fred Sokol