Fern Hill – How We Change for Those We Love

Communes have changed. Way back when, the term loosely indicated a fixer-upper/cooperative with Good Will furniture…free love, crunchy granola, tie-dye… a passing parade of artisans, hippies, and the ecologically aware (Whole Earth Catalog anyone?), all of whom contributed labor and available funds.

Today, The New York Times declares, groups of Boomers live together for very different reasons. They hope to grow old with friends for the company of like minded people, to cut expenses, and to help one another with medical failings as they arise. Playwright Michel Tucker has chosen to frame his exploration of middle-aged, relationship compromise with this premise.

Jill Eikenberry (Sunny) and Mark Blum (Jer)

Soft spoken Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) is the warm, practical force behind starting a commune at her and husband Jer’s farm, Fern Hill, with two other couples, their best, longtime friends. Jer (Mark Blum) a cynical teacher turning 70, is selfishly against the idea. Having turned away from his wife’s lack of desire, Jer is having the affair that provokes this play. We don’t know it yet. Sunny does.

Billy (Mark Linn Baker) is a 60 year-old rock n’ roll bassist (and avid cook – see recipe below) who refuses to acknowledge the tail end of a median career. He drinks and takes psychedelics as if he was 30 years younger, has a sweet spirit, and recognizes few boundaries. Wife, Michiko (Jodi Long), is whip smart, low key, wry, and patient.

Vincent (John Glover), a painter of some reputation on the cusp of 80, is happily looking forward to selling his city loft, having taken up residence in the barn. He’s the voice of calm and witty wisdom. Somewhat younger wife Darla (Ellen Parker), a nurturer, is starting a new creative chapter with her first solo photography exhibition.

They’re a lovely bunch with whom to spend time. Bantering is easy and character specific. The play is like a slice-of-life French film depicting lives that existed before we sat down and will resume afterwards. Chemistry is such that the actors, all skilled veterans, seem to BE friends. Every one is credible.

Jodi Long (Michiko), Mark Linn-Baker (Billy), Ellen Parker (Darla), John Glover (Vincent)

When Sunny confronts Jer, there’s no shouting, no slammed doors. To Jill Eikenberry’s credit, hurt and anger are palpable without excess. Sunny knows it’s not a one way street. Mark Blum makes Jer’s sullen withdrawal so authentic you want to throttle him.  

Billy, Michiko, Darla, and Vincent decide to hold a group therapy session, or, the women do and the men go along. Everyone exposes him/her self and what marriage has wrought. Writing is thoroughly appealing.

There isn’t a weak link in the cast, but if you’ve gotten to be your age without falling in love with John Glover, prepare to do so now. (He’s had me a very long time.) Impeccable timing, observable listening, perfectly manifest physical infirmity, grace, and empathy for surreptitiously shy Vincent who’s beginning to see the specter of death over his shoulder, is a marvel.

Director Nadia Tass shepherds six likeable, whole people with naturalistic timing and movement.

“The Famous Spaghetti Vongole Da Michele by Michael Tucker: Take a large skillet with olive oil and add bacon. Saute to a crisp before adding ½ chopped onion, 4 chopped cloves of garlic, and dried pepper flakes. Saute over low flame until opaque. Add 1 ½ cups white wine and 4 tbsp butter on high heat until emulsified. In separate bowl, take 10-15 small clams per person. Drain clam juice and 1lb really, really al dente pasta to emulsion; add more pasta water if necessary. Add clams and serve sans parsley or cheese. Wow your guests!”

Photography by Carol Rosegg

Opening: John Glover (Vincent), Mark Linn-Baker (Billy), Ellen Parker (Darla), Jodi Long (Michiko), Jill Eikenberry (Sunny), Mark Blum (Jer)

Fern Hill by Michael Tucker
Directed by Nadia Tass
59E59 Theaters
Through October 20, 2019

About Alix Cohen (747 Articles)
Alix Cohen is the recipient of eight New York Press Club Awards for work published on this venue. Her writing history began with poetry, segued into lyrics and took a commercial detour while holding executive positions in product development, merchandising, and design. A cultural sponge, she now turns her diverse personal and professional background to authoring pieces about culture/the arts with particular interest in artists/performers and entrepreneurs. Theater, music, art/design are lifelong areas of study and passion. She is a voting member of Drama Desk and Drama League. Alix’s professional experience in women’s fashion fuels writing in that area. Besides Woman Around Town, the journalist writes for Cabaret Scenes, Broadway World, and Theater Pizzazz. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine, Times Square Chronicles, and ifashionnetwork. She lives in Manhattan. Of course.