Directed by Jan Ellen Graves
At Redtwist Theatre, Chicago
Heartfelt, well written, often funny, drama awaits
Playwright Tommy Lee Johnston collaborated with director Jan Ellen Graves in 2010 with the AURA (https://chicagocritic.com/aura/) – a terrific hit play. With Geezers, Graves and Johnston recreate their magic in a wonderful, honest and heartfelt drama. This ambitious work is both a ‘coming-of-age’ drama and a nostalgic trip back for the ‘geezers’ living in a retirement home. One of playwright Johnston’s strengths is his ability to create well-rounded empathetic characters then put them in believable situations. He sprinkles honesty with humor, even gallows humor, together with smart, witty dialogue without resorting to sentimentality.
Geezers isn’t a standard memory play but a fresh, warm journey of awakening or re-awakening that finds each of the characters working out what roles they play throughout their lives. Their unique interactions fuel the story effectively.
Set in a retirement home, we meet Jack (Aaron Kirby), a painfully shy baby-faced 30-year old man whose fears people, the world and life. He is neuritic, easily embarrassed, and fully socially phobic. He has spent much of his life caring for his now departed deaf mother and writing plays too similar to classics. He is a loner who fears life. Upon his mother’s passing, the retirement home that she volunteered for many years has offered Jack a position as a caregiver for a group of golden age retirees. Head nurse Gina (Jacqueline Grandt) both nurtures and supervises Jack as he struggles with his shyness and anti-social phobias. Jack knows he must breakout of his shell but he doesn’t know how. Aaron Kirby is terrific as the emotionally fearful and insecure man fighting his shyness. He leads a stellar cast. Jacqueline Grandt is the matriarch of the home as she plays out her guilt from past drinking that led her to abound her mother when she need her. Grandt anchors the play nicely.
But as Jack works with the seniors, he and they slowly warm to each other. Jack overcomes his foibles as he diligently yet awkwardly aids his wards. He helps dementia-ridden Emily (Kathleen Ruhl in a hilarious turn) who sings TV commercials as she watches non-stop TV. She is visited by Jenny (Debra Rodkin) who believes that Emily could be her birth mother. Jack’s interaction with Kate (Donna Steele), a former minor stage and screen actress; with Neil (Brian Parry) a Vietnam vet; and with Ray (Bruce Cronander) a sleepy man remorseful for his involvement with his wife’s suicide leads him, with their help, to awaken his maturity as he discovers the world as he starts interviewing each retiree in order to chronicle their life stories.
This exercise is Jack’s epiphany as the old folks get him to break out of his comfort zone by getting him to vicariously live each of their lives. Playwright Johnston nicely has the young Kate (Julie Dahlinger), the young Neil Caleb Fortune) and the young Ray (Michael Bartz) interact with Jack as they tell their stories. Jack learns about life; that it is fraught with drama and adventure yet it possess love and enough happiness to be worth living. Jack learns from the ‘Geezers” that life is, indeed, worth experiencing. It is refreshing to see us geezers being the heroes.
The geezers’ stories are worthy, the ensemble performances are terrific, and the play is a charming, heartfelt affair that pays homage to the spark of humanity that makes us human. It once again proves that us old-timers can still contribute to society. Geezers is one of the finest new works to grace a Chicago stage this year. Take your young folks to see this so they can appreciate the wisdom of us geezers.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: July 26, 2014
For more info checkout the Geezers page at theatreinchicago.com
At Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, call 773-728-7529. www.redtwist.org, tickets $30m- $35 (seniors/students $5 off), Thursdays thru Saturdays at 7:30 pm, Sundays at 3 pm, running time is 2 hours, 25 minutes with intermission, through August 24, 2014