by: Sandi Durell
Aging can be sleepy, laden with images of the past, or a jolt of jaunty expectations.
It is 1951 as we find ourselves in a dreary old estate in Wiltshire, England, where three aging members of the Denham family have spent their lives . . . Margaret and Charles (the proper Jill Tanner and the seemingly contented Jonathan Hogan) and the idiosyncratic Harry (George Morfogen), Charles’ older brother, who still has a bit of life surging through his 81 year old body. Harry came to live with them when his young wife passed on years’ prior.
Whereas Charles spends most of his time sleeping, Harry can be out and about shooting pheasant and displaying a quick wit with a sarcastic bent. Margaret laments her workload in this 18 bedroom old monster house, even though they live in only part of it – – the cleaning, the cooking – – servants not available any longer at the wages they can now pay. But she does have a wee bit of help from the dotty old family nurse, played by the amusing Barbara Eda-Young, who walks about singing hymns and is quite proficient making potful’s of cocoa.
The Denhams reside in a very rural and isolated area finding it exceedingly difficult to maintain a social life or have access to everyday needs. It is the era when aristocrats could no longer survive as they see their finances dwindle. The interior of the 16th Century Winton Manor is beautifully orchestrated with set design by Charles Morgan and period costuming by Sam Fleming.
You might think that the 2 ½ hours to come could be somewhat boring, in this the autumn of the years. But take heart, as director Gus Kaikkonen lights the path with humor and wisdom, in N.C. Hunter’s drawing room comedy, to keep things moving along with chuckles a-plently.
When uptight son Robert arrives (Paul Niebanck) with his laid back wife Elizabeth (Katie Firth), they bring their charming, light-filled teenage daughter Felicity (Helen Cespedes) with them who spreads joy and hope, especially to Uncle Harry.
Robert has a plan to present to his elderly parents – sell the estate to an interested party who would turn it into an agricultural college. Havoc prevails as Mother and Father are confused and not forthcoming with an answer, trying to keep it all from Harry, albeit he is the one who best understands the situation of aging and its limitations.
Harry has also become enamored with Felicity (in a grand-fatherly way, we presume) as she is the spitting image of his deceased wife. He enlivens his life spending time talking with her, and surpasses the rest of the cast delightfully with his dry wit and humor.
In the mix is Robert’s much younger brother Frankie (Christian Coulson, of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets fame) who has a thing for Elizabeth, as he flirts incessantly with her hoping to spark a flame. However, Ms. Firth seems much too rigid a character in this situation, although there’s a momentary acknowledgement of should I?
The ongoing insinuation of aging takes over the lives of all the characters – young and old alike.
A Picture of Autumn continues at the Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd St. (3rd Fl), NYC thru July 14th. 866 81104111 www.minttheater.org