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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Phoenix Theatre Presents an Amiable Production of Peter Levy's Friends

Also see Richard's review of Alegria

Phoenix Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere of Peter Levy's contemporary comedy Friends, a charming 90 minute bittersweet comedy about two lonely senior citizens of Manhattan who meet on a bench in Central Park. The couple is the epitome of the old adage that says "opposites attract." The dialogue between the two is lightweight and often the emotions change very rapidly.

Ruth Appfelbaum (Beverly Elkan), a personable elderly woman on a pension who has survived three loveless marriages, goes to Central Park every day. She even has cards printed that say "Ruth Appfelbaum, Friend." Ruth loves to take trips on the IRT and sometimes goes as far as the Catskills. She likes going to the Metropolitan Museum because "they have nice bathrooms" and to the Public Library to look at travel books for places she always wanted to visit. Ruth loves cutting out wedding photos from the Times and pasting them in her scrapbook. "They always look so happy," she says. Her only companion is her cat. She is an incurability romantic woman who is still looking for love.

Max Horowitz (John Hutchinson) comes into Ruth's life one afternoon while she is sitting in the park. Max, a old cantankerous person, sits down besides her to read the New York Times. Max is a retired intellectual who used to devise crossword puzzles for a living. He has a very small pension that provides him with money for food and medicine, but apparently not enough for an apartment. He says he has enough money for 25 of the 31 days of the month. The play never explains why this man is homeless and it seems strange that he always sleeps on a park bench in Central Park which is dangerous in itself.

The two persons get off to a rocky start, with both explaining their past lives. You can see that these two are completely opposite from each other. Max is an articulate speaker, world traveler and still grieving for his wife who died years ago. Ruth never experienced true love with her past three husbands, and she also has had difficulty in holding onto friends because of her pushy attitude.

Ruth, who loves her freedom, finally condescends to allow Max to temporarily stay in her apartment but says "there will be no hanky panky." Max accepts because she makes a good kugel. Of course, another old adage comes in the second act: "familiarity breeds contempt." Can two senior argumentative people live together in harmony?

Beverley Elkan, recently from New York, and John Hutchison give heartfelt performances as the elderly couple. Ms. Elkan has some problems at the beginning with projection in the small bandbox theater, but she finds her character in the second act with an emotional scene about the need for each other. John Hutchison, who was excellent in Kilt, gives a first class performance as the argumentative homeless man. Both actors work well with each other. Direction by Linda Ayres-Frederick is fast paced.

Friends continues through December 6 at the Phoenix Theatre, 414 Mason (6th floor), San Francisco. Tickets at the box office, one half hour prior to the performance, TIX Union Square or reserve at 415-989-0023.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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