Corrections or additions?

This review by Joan Crespi was prepared for the June 6, 2001

edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: `A Month of Sundays’

There’s pathos and sadness in the seventh of the seven

ages of man; some see it as the tragedy of the human condition. At

Off-Broadstreet Theater, "A Month of Sundays" is billed as

a play about "a crotchety old coot in a nursing home." Even

the choice of words suggests derision, lack of dignity, foolishness.

But author Bob Larbey has taken this inherently melancholy situation

and made a comedy out of it. The production, accompanied by luscious

desserts (included in the ticket price), runs through June 30.

One of Britain’s foremost and funniest scriptwriters, Larbey set the

play in London. Americanized for its New York production in 1987,

it had a brief run with Jason Robards starring. (The baseball team

referred to in this version was — you guessed it — originally

a cricket team.)

While nothing much happens in the play — only life — the

dialogue

is sharp, self-mocking, and funny. The character of John Cooper (Doug

Kline) is what makes this a comedy. Cooper is alert and never foolish,

not your stereotype of an old coot. You laugh with him, not at him.

He thinks and is always making jokes out of the infirmities of age

and the events — really non-events — of his life.

Cooper lives — virtually confines himself — in his large,

well-appointed room in the Westchester Rest Home, complete with

Tiffany

lamp and fancy carved oak chairs beside a small round table (some

nursing home!). He has no interest in the world outside the nursing

home gates. Onstage the whole time (except during his trips to the

bathroom), he carries the play. Sometimes he’s alone on stage,

sometimes

in dialogue with Nurse Wilson (Jennifer L. Groom), with whom he acts

the gentle, would-be old lecher, with Mrs. Baker (Radia Funna) who

does housekeeping and sings, with his daughter Julia, and son-in-law

Peter (Denise L. Dion and Steve Lobis), who drive up once a month

from Short Hills. (The latter couple visit without his grandson who

gets nightmares from this place where everyone is dying). His best

companion is his good friend and fellow resident, Aylott, played by

Robert Thick.

That’s right. Robert Thick, who usually directs OBT productions and,

with his wife Julie, is producer and OBT owner, here superbly acts

the part of Aylott. His voice is commanding at the outset even though

his body is stooped, arms and legs akimbo, like a very old man’s.

It’s Aylott who finally makes the play his, for it’s Aylott to whom

something happens.

The play is directed by Karl Light, who has acted and directed for

Off-Broadstreet, and who appeared in "The Odyssey" at McCarter

Theater.

Although the plot is minimal and the play lacks tension

and conflict — except the conflict of the old against physical

and mental deterioration and death, and the ending is sure — it

never flags. Drawing on its witty, self-deprecating dialogue (and

monologue) from Cooper and on his character, the play keeps its

audience

(from a child to elders on opening night) engrossed and laughing.

Cooper’s life consists of breakfast ("fuel") arriving on a

tray, Mrs. Baker vacuuming ("The panzers are coming"),

memories

of his dead wife, choices for lunch, his refusing to go for a walk,

his talk about peeing, his visits from Aylott. The two men drink to

the "escape committee" (they plan to escape to Switzerland

dressed as nuns), talk about Cooper’s design for urine bags, and about

George Hartley, once so vigorous he was mistaken for a member of the

staff but who yesterday was found paddling in the pond. Hartley has

joined the zombies. Do you know when it starts to happen? Cooper

wonders.

The two buddies play chess and repeatedly try to remember all nine

players of the 1937 New York Giants baseball team. They can recall

the names of only eight. Aylott tells Cooper he fears he might be

becoming a zombie. He turned the wrong way out of the rest home’s

gate and wound up in an industrial park instead of at the candy store.

Cooper’s daughter and son-in-law arrive on their monthly visit and

walk in on Cooper, just fallen on the floor. Unhurt, Cooper even jokes

about the grammar of falls.

Several offstage happenings concerning the home are either spied

through

the window and remarked upon by Cooper or reported to him by the

staff.

When George Hartley’s sister arrives and is informed of George’s

state,

she resolves not to visit anymore, Wilson tells Cooper and cries.

Though Cooper is pleased by Wilson’s tears, her crying seems phony.

Would she cry because a patient will no longer have visitors?

Similarly, Cooper’s reconciliation with his emotionally distant

daughter,

Julia, (accomplished while her husband has gone to fetch Cooper’s

gift, a baseball encyclopedia, from the car), is resolved in a few

lines. Although he could now look up the players on that Giants team,

Cooper stows the encyclopedia in a drawer instead.

Both Cooper and Aylott are, at times, splenetic, glowering, merry,

and play amusingly off each other. Although we know more of Cooper,

who refuses to be "one of those boring old farts whose every

sentence

begins with `I remember’" and whose by-words are "Mustn’t

grumble," it is Thick who commands the stage. The play has its

serious moments, too — including Cooper charming Wilson and Mrs.

Baker, remembering his dead wife, the two men confessing "I’m

afraid." The supporting actors are credible, but Groom and Lobis

deserve special mention.

While Cooper’s ailments are physical, Aylott’s are not. Pressed,

Wilson

tells Cooper that this morning Aylott became "disoriented"

(a code word for Alzheimer’s). Aylott appears, shaken. He laments

to Cooper, "My first excursion to zombie land and I didn’t

remember

what it was like." Which, of course, is the whole point. Cooper,

meanwhile, experiences "the first warm trickle" of

incontinence.

"Where’s the dignity now for us?" he asks.

Struggling to reclaim his memory, Aylott shouts out the names of the

players on the Giants baseball team. Again he can name only eight.

We know Cooper could look up the full nine; instead, he hugs his

stricken

friend’s shoulders in strongly felt compassion. It’s a tragedy.

— Joan Crespi

Month of Sundays, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South

Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell, 609-466-2766. $20.50 to $22. 8 p.m.

Weekends through June 30.


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