BWW Review: Make Room For A BENCH IN THE SUN ~ It Radiates With Humor and Insight
An entirely delightful gem of a production of Ron Clark's A BENCH IN THE SUN directed by Cheryl Schaar has opened at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, and the chemistry between its two leads is a sight to behold.
Lee Cooley (revealing an impeccable sense of comic timing and caricature) and Jim Coates (an ideal foil to his benchmate's bon mots and taunts) are polar opposites, Harold and Burt, residents of Valley View Gardens, joined at their arthritic hips by the bonds of time ~ past, present, and the inevitable future. They went to school together and worked together, and not until some forty years later, at Harold's invitation, share life in a retirement home.
Harold's legacy is three failed marriages, five ruined businesses, and children who won't talk to him, but one thing that has not failed him is his preoccupation with women.
Burt, who was Harold's accountant, lives with the memory of his wife Sylvia, daily devours the upsetting news of the day, and is inclined at the drop of a hat to calculate the number of hours one sleeps in a year. On the serious side, Burt has a score to settle, a balance sheet to reconcile, a promise to Sylvia that by play's end he is obliged to fulfill.
Like two Prufrocks, measuring out their life with coffee spoons, each is the other's solitary audience, volleying and deflecting their smart-ass gibes as they await the public address announcements for mealtime. It's groundhog day until the appearance of Adrienne Bliss (Donna Kaufman), a still starry-eyed veteran of filmdom, whose flirtatious ways catch the eyes and hearts of the boys on the bench ~ and she plays them. As the courting commences, a cloud hovers over the bench with the announcement that Valley View Gardens has been sold.
Clark's script is rich with one liners, musings about the seasons and sacrifices of one's life ("We did all that for lentil soup!"), tender moments (a dance lesson), and reflections on changes in the world that make the old folks seem irrelevant. Beyond the humor are the gentle but ironic reminders of one's mortality and the fate that awaits those consigned to congregate living ("Retirement homes do everything to keep you alive and nothing to keep you living.")
Cooley, Coates, and Kaufman deliver an uproarious and endearing tribute to the joys and tribulations of aging. Roger McKay, the company's producer, music and sound director, and Brandon Sibetang, lighting designer, augment their performance with just the right textures and tones to make for a radiant ninety minutes of theatre.
A BENCH IN THE SUN, directed by Cheryl Schaar, continues its run at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre in Scottsdale through August 26th.
Photo credit to Don Bluth Front Row Theatre