When one looks at the demographics of the New York theatre audience these days (mostly senior at the non-profits), one can lament the future of serious drama, but one can also wonder why there aren't more plays about the lives of senior citizens. This year we have TOO MUCH, TOO MUCH, TOO MANY, a lovely picture of grief at the end of a long, loving marriage and Samuel Beckett's ALL THAT FALL, giving us a loving, crotchety elderly couple facing the usual Beckett bleakness. Over the past few seasons, the Manhattan Theatre Club, which seems to specialize in plays about troubled middle-aged women, has given us the occasional widowed mother of the heroine. Are there no dramas in the lives of us seniors in the audience? Perhaps we don't want to see our lives on stage.
What about the denizens of those warehouses known as retirement homes. Richard Abrons' EVERY DAY A VISITOR, an adaptation of a short story he wrote some years ago (the play was first produced in 2000), gives us a particularly bleak version of such a home. This Jewish retirement home is somewhere in the Bronx surrounded by a neighborhood that has gone downhill. The home, too, is in bad shape. There are few residents and the management is scrimping on the heat and the food -- lots of beans and cabbage rather than a balanced diet, leading to too many senior fart jokes. Indeed what we get in this play is a compendium of comic senior types: the oversexed lady (a Jewish Betty White), the very ladylike farter, the deaf one who mishears everything, the hot-tempered Italian, the Black orderly. We see these folks attempting to playing bridge in the common room -- arguing overwhelms the game. The gimmick here is that suddenly the residents decide to take on alter egos -- Henry Kissinger, Bella Abzug, Fiorello LaGuardia -- people in powerful positions. Playing this game allows them to take some control over their lives. They argue less and become a community, this staving off individual loneliness.
No one in the small audience found the stereotypical humor very funny. I found it difficult to care a lot about what was going on on stage. The transition to the "game" seemed too abrupt in part because characters had not been established well enough. Perhaps this is part of the problem the play is trying to deal with -- the diminution of personality in these institutions, the loss of self. I see it when the busloads of seniors arrive at my local supermarket. They seem anesthetized. There must be a way to dramatize this in an interesting way. Despite the energetic performances of the cast, I found EVERY DAY A VISITOR dull.
EVERY DAY A VISITOR. Harold Clurman Theatre. December 3, 2013.