Cute and girlish isn‚Äôt what‚Äôs called for from a 70-year-old widow. And it isn‚Äôt an appealing picture.
Lee Meriwether, still beautiful all these years after winning the Miss America crown in 1955, is too visibly “together” to crumple into the coy flirtatiousness she exhibits at the sight of an old flame. And that‚Äôs not just my opinion; it‚Äôs what her daughter, Shelby, thinks as well.
Meriwether, as Irene, is the owner of a comfortable country home on the edge of a Midwestern lake. As William Blinn‚Äôs play “A Short Stay at Carranor” begins, Irene is twittering around getting the house ready for a visit from the man she didn‚Äôt marry 50 years earlier.
Shelby, well-played by understudy Leona Britton on the night I saw the production, is aghast at her mother‚Äôs behavior and shocked to discover that Irene has been seeing this man, Chet (Don Moss), over the 18 years since her divorce and, later, death of her ex-husband. The problem is that Chet is married and, like Irene, has children and grandchildren of his own.
The other problem is that he is dying.
Shelby‚Äôs disapproval comes not only from the fact that Chet is “a Republican and a gun owner,” but also from the fact that her mother is apparently sleeping with a married man, to which Irene responds with the most unlikely denial ever perpetrated on a grown-up audience: “We don‚Äôt make love,” she says. “We just hold each other.” (And, like Bill Clinton, they “didn‚Äôt inhale?”) Not only unbelievable, but ridiculous. In their 70s, who are they saving their virginity for?
There are a couple of extraneous subplots: Greg Lewis provides some comic relief that falls flat as the curmudgeon next-door neighbor, and Shelby and her husband Alan (George Tovar) have a lacerating fight, which Shelby resolves by seducing him in the kitchen.
Set designer Jeff G. Rack has beautifully captured the look of a traditional summerhouse that has acquired leftover furnishings from the many other places the owners have lived. And the acting of all parties is good despite the uninspired direction of John Gallogly.
But the love affair between Irene and Chet seems somehow hollow. There doesn‚Äôt seem to be much chemistry there, and you get the feeling that Irene has accepted the affair because, as she admits, she is “tired of being alone.” She very clearly sees this as her last chance to be loved. Moreover, she goes into the adventure knowing that when Chet dies she will have nothing of him except a few months of memories.
The best thing about this production, however, is that it demonstrates current playwrights‚Äô growing awareness of the concerns of an aging population, and, in the case of “A Short Stay at Carranor,” confirms that romantic love is possible at any age.
“A Short Stay at Carranor” will continue at Theatre West, 3333 Cahuenga Blvd. West, in Los Angeles, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Sept. 29. Call (323) 851-7977 for reservations, or visit www.theatrewest.org.
Cynthia Citron can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.