Later Life is a delicate comedy about late love and second chances.
Thursday, March 2, 2000
"Everyone has a story," says one of the colorful characters who populates A.R. Gurney''s Later Life, currently playing at Carmel''s Carl Cherry Center for the Arts. And indeed, everyone does. The fun in director Conrad Selvig''s production is watching those stories unfold.
Austin (Terry Durney) and Ruth (Connie Erickson) are introduced on the terrace of a Boston apartment. They are in their 50s, articulate, attractive and both divorced. It is obvious that well-meaning friends hope that these two people''s stories will converge, and the notion is all the more enticing when we discover that this is a second meeting for the pair, the first having taken place many years before.
As the story of that first encounter slowly emerges, the pair is interrupted by a menagerie of comic characters, from computer nerds to Goth lesbians, all played by Michele Savage and Robert Norwood. We get to hear their respective stories--many of them poignantly comic--while at the same time growing impatient to find out what will become of the prospective lovers.
Later Life is the story of second chances, the yearning for true emotional connections, and the casting off of chains of habit with which we bind ourselves.
Selvig''s set is done in white and brick--clean, symetrical, and solid, evoking the Boston of orderliness and upright behavior. Romance may occur on such a terrace but never anything untoward--just the right touch. The costumes were excellent. Each character''s persona was described even before a single word was said. They were never flashy or a joke unto themselves--the actors wore the costumes rather than the reverse.
The cast more than did justice to this funny and thoughtful script. Durney''s Austin was gentlemanly without being staid or stuffy, and Erickson''s warm and slightly flirtatious Ruth was the perfect foil. We find ourselves rooting for these two. We want them to connect. Both Savage and Norwood, who play five characters apiece, displayed terrific range, sliding seamlessly into very different personae. Especially impressive was both actors'' ability to skirt the muddy puddle of caricature without ever slipping in.
And there lies much of the success of this play. By juxtaposing what are almost stock characters with the relatively "normal" characters of Austin and Ruth, Selvig illustrates the humanity and universality of their situation. The multiple characters who constantly interrupt this careful courtship "narrate" Austin and Ruth''s tale by insisting on telling us their stories of love lost, found or rediscovered. We laugh at their comic antics but we are touched as well. And, as the evening progresses, we hope that this story will turn out to be a happy one.
Later Life continues at the Cherry Center through March 19.