News Column

Theater review: "Geriatrical Theatrical

June 17, 2013

YellowBrix

June 17--Is old age worth the trouble? Depends who you talk to. With the sciatica and the heart trouble and erectile dysfunction and, "oy, my aching back," sometimes life feels like quantity, not quality.

"The Geriatrical Theatrical," a new concoction by playwright John Fenn and composer/lyricist Drew Jansen, mashes together some ideas into an underbaked hash aimed to uplift the chronologically enriched. It's being produced by theatreAEON at the Plymouth Playhouse.

"Geriatrical" has a vaudeville feel, taking place in the Casino of Life. Claudia Wilkens plays a character named Ailments and deals cards of fate -- muscle spasms, heart attacks. Occasionally, she softens with a moment of relief.

She drifts in and out while Louie Leonard (Richard Ooms) crabs incessantly about his advancing aches and pains, much to the chagrin of his chipper brother, Phil (Phil Ross), and Phil's wife, Marian (Dee Noah). Phil and Marian want Louie to join them in a senior cooperative and maybe even perform in their musical revue. Of course Louie joins by the end of the show, but there is so much crankiness and complaining and trauma leading up to the denouement that it's difficult to enjoy it.

Jansen accompanies on the piano, with one foot in the story as Louie's son and another in the casino as an entertainer. He has written a few poignant songs, including one that he sings about his father's connection to autos and his good memories of riding around with Dad.

Those nice moments notwithstanding, "Geriatrical" lacks heart and charm. Bain Boehlke directs with efficiency and focuses on individual moments, but he can't change the nature of the show. Fenn's scenario never feels real in a way that might make us care about the characters; nor is it profound enough to provoke existential questions. There's not enough meat on the bone to get involved, and what is there is flavorless.

The cast works hard to make something of it. Noah and Ross, old veterans of Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, still have lovely voices. Ooms does that crotchety thing quite well, and Wilkens can handle any situation.

Fenn's impulse was admirable -- preaching the gospel that life can blossom even when the flower has wilted. His creation, however, doesn't follow through on those good intentions.

Graydon Royce --612-673-7299

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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