by Sandi Durell
Facing aging comes with a lot of new challenges. But in Susan Miller’s new play 20th Century Blues, the complexity broadens and goes even deeper when a group of four friends come together for an annual reunion to be photographed, chronicling the changes that have taken place spanning 40 years.
Danny (a smart looking Polly Draper) is the photographer who has been given a retrospective of her work upcoming at MOMA. And so, it’s just another yearly happening getting her friends together to dish the dirt, catch up and be photographed following her visit to her aging mother (Beth Dixon), bordering on dementia, at a facility.
The friends are an eclectic mix who meet at Danny’s New York apartment (cozy, lived-in scenic design by Beowulf Boritt with lighting by Jeff Croiter) spanning a variety of professions. Gabby (an amusing Kathryn Grody) is a veterinarian and cancer survivor, but she’s practicing what it will be like when she is left alone if her husband dies, and is now living at a hotel on her own . . . a widow-in-training.
Mac (a grounded Franchelle Stewart Dorn) is a journalist and writer. She is gay and from the looks of things, had a little fling with Danny . . . just because. Sil (Ellen Parker) is in real estate and worried about looking older and how it will effect her sales career. She’d just been to a plastic surgeon who marked up her face to show her what might be done and has to reveal herself, removing her scarf, for all to see. She’s heckled generously by the lot who are more inclined to grow old gracefully. This all results in a lot of trite conversation.
When Danny readies to take photos there’s just one issue: they all have to sign releases – a first, since their photos will be included in her upcoming retrospective of the women and how they’ve changed over four decades. They’d also be involved in TED Talk, where their faces will appear on screens. They’re not happy; time has been cruel to some. Sil, in particular, refuses to sign a release.
They talk about Danny and how she manipulates, but in a good way; about pharmaceuticals, anti-depressants, gender and racial issues, and smoke a joint as they morph from topic to topic. The talk and banter doesn’t reveal anything new about women or aging but fortifies what’s been said on timeless occasions. Finally, they look at all their photos over 40 years . . . when they were young and wanted it all and now feel abused. However, there are abundant humorous lines to give it an easy conversational feeling and the audience some chuckles.
Danny’s mother enters with her grandson Simon, Danny’s adopted son, (Charles Socarides), a real techie of the new era, who cares deeply for his mom and granny providing a nice warmth in the mix.
The epilogue: Danny at TED Talks introducing her photos and women friends, and keeping old beautiful. Chin up!
There’s a lot of heart in Susan Miller’s writing, directed by Emily Mann, as the storyline picks up more emotion moving forward over the one hour, 40 minutes. But the theme is worn out and needs some new revelations.
Photos: Joan Marcus
20th Century Blues at The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42 Street) thru January 28, 2018.