April 25, 2010

CANADA: Old age wisdom

. EDMONTON, Alberta / The Edmonton Sun / Entertainment / Columnists / April 25, 2010 Actress Bette Davis is credited with the line, “Old age ain’t for sissies.” To which Edmonton playwright Mark Stubbings seems to add, “It’s no time to give up either,” in his new work, Dry the Rain, being given its world premier by Workshop West. Clayton (John Wright) and Agnes (Patricia Casey) have been shuffled off to a retirement home by their son, Tom. Neither is ready for the move. He is in the first stages of dementia and consumed with bitterness — standing by the barred window and grinding out, “I’m not finished yet.” She is rather unsuccessfully endeavouring to learn how to knit. The two are stranded in what seems to be the typical home for seniors — complete with bingo, amateur magic shows and bad food. He feels it is a prison where they are treated with condescension while society waits for them to die. “Why don’t you do something?” the ever patient Agnes asks him. “I am,” he rages. “I’m aging.” Mark Stubbings pulls a lot of humour out of the situation by having Clayton speak in language that would peel the paint off the wall (Oh, look how the cute old guy swears) and by the comic chafing of one generation against the other. Their relentlessly jolly “caregiver” is David (Frank Zotter), a chipmunk of a man who is always bounding into their room with a cheery, “Can I get somethin’ for ya?” while compulsively straightening out the furniture and bedclothes. “It’s very important to socialize in your declining years,” he burbles. Suffice to say that in Stubbings’ clever, well constructed play (although it tends to fall apart at the end) none of these people are who they seem to be and we learn how it took them a lifetime to get to where they are. Photo credit: Ian Jackson / Seemagazine Director Michael Clark has chosen his cast well. Wright is the go-to-guy for grumpy old men around here and, as always, he delivers strongly. Stubbings doesn’t help him out much in Act I, giving him one note to hit and making him so cruel and hateful that, after a while, you tend to dial the old geezer out. But playwright and actor combine to deliver a powerful monologue in Act II which goes a long way to reclaim the character. Casey always distinguishes herself on stage but has seldom been as effective as she is here. Both actors play characters decades older than themselves, but Casey has the stoop, arthritic hands and an elderly manner that deftly communicates an unquenchable spirit in an aged body. The two pros perform as if they have indeed spent a lifetime together. Zotter swoops and swans about the room. The character may seem like a facile stereotype but this fine actor brings levels to his performance. Note should be made of Victoria Zimski’s set which is a generic, inhospitable room surrounded in the darkness by grey statues of elderly people in servile poses. Darren Hagen’s soundscape is expressive and moody. Three and a half Suns out of five Dry the Rain, which brings to a close Workshop West’s 31st season of presenting new plays, runs at La Cite Francophone through May 2. [rc] Copyright © 2010 The Edmonton Sun Seniors World Chronicle adds: Also read related story Dry The Rain avoids elderly stereotypes