She’s of a Certain Age is written and directed with finesse and impeccably acted, but it does not captivate. We very rarely feel emotionally involved with the characters.
The set, designed by James Wolk, is beautiful and appropriate down to the poster for An American in Paris. The pre-show music is perfectly selected. But somehow the whole thing feels too tidy, too wrapped up and tied with a bow. It is so polished and contrived that for the most part we feel nothing.
Dottie (Lois Markle) is an interior decorator who “makes small rooms larger,” and Sylvia (Rosemary Prinz) is a fashion designer who makes “large women look smaller.” Each in the world of creating illusion.
The opening act, “Did You Know My Husband?” centers around our discovering the relationship between Dottie and her husband (who died over 20 years ago) and Sylvia and her deceased husband Isaac. There’s considerable conversation between the two during which Sylvia professes not to remember anything the couples did together and in which we often get far more information than we need (or want). We may care that Sylvia’s reaction to the death of Isaac, her husband of fifty years, is that she misses him…”a little,” but do we care that Isaac was a moody and often difficult man? Then at last we reach the ah-ha moment and, guess what, it’s not what we thought it was. Unfortunately, by this time we just don’t care.
Drena De Niro as Julia may have the most challenging character to make believable. Described as a romantic and a girl who never really grew up, she follows her lover Jim (Robert Newman), who is a concert violinist, all over the world. It’s deemed to be an unhealthy relationship (or perhaps just unconventional).
In the third act she has invited Jim to come to her apartment “to make love for the last time” and to tell him that “it’s over, I can’t do this anymore and I’m leaving.” She was fired from her writing job for missing deadlines and she even neglected her cat, all because of him. Her decision is not an easy one…”even your Mongolian is sexy.”
It is in this act that we reach the zenith of contrivance. Jim is limited to two words of dialogue throughout (we learn later it is all the aftermath of a game they played). It must be noted that Newman handles this with absolutely amazing skill.
The fourth and final act, “Sundown,” references the fact that it is during this time of day that Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be the most apparent. Jim and Sylvia talk about Julia. Julia returns. Sylvia is somewhat disoriented. And it all concludes with Julia asking Sylvia if she recognizes her and Sylvia responding, “You’re my daughter Julia. Who else would you be?” Oh, by the way, it’s Valentine’s Day.
There are so many pluses in this production and so much talent and skill evident in all those involved it’s a shame it doesn’t always work. Somehow it ends up more like four skits than four acts of one play.
Top photo: Lois Markle and Rosemary Prinz
Middle photo: Robert Newman and Drena De Niro
She’s of a Certain Age
Presented by Cause Celebre in association with Mary J. Davis
Written by Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marsellis and Christopher Hart
At Theatre Row’s Beckett Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th)
Running through June 10, 2012, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. with matinees Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m.