by Marilyn Lester
“Old age ain’t no place for sissies” Bette Davis famously said. In Richard Abrons’ play Every Day a Visitor, the residents of a faded, forgotten Jewish home for the aged in the Bronx prove they’re ready to rumble with Chronos any time, with fierce, humorous determination.
Mounted by Woodie King Jr.s’ New Federal Theater, the two act comedy is set in the commons room of the home, a place, according to one of its denizens, of “defeated elegance.” The seven Alter Kockers who live there fill their time by almost playing bridge – and arguing – constantly, in a kvetch-fest moved along briskly by director, Margarett Perry.
The wheelchair-bound Feltenstein (Bern Cohen), Mrs. Marcus (Janet Sarno), Grossman (Evan Thompson), Davidowitz (Henry Packer), Mrs. Levy (Joan Porter) and Figliozzo (Teddy Coluca) an Italian who notes he’s the only goy in the home, occupy the card tables, going at each other with gloves off. Bob (Rafael Nash Thompson), their caretaker, is a burned out ex-cop, who gamely tries to keep some semblance of order, while the dispirited, unkempt and slightly hostile Stoopak, stays to himself at the TV.
These argumentative geezers complain, not only because they feel marginalized and utterly powerless, but to remind themselves they’re still alive, and they still matter, if only to each other. Along with the running riff of who’s passing wind (the cheapskate who owns the place has replaced good, honest meat with beans), there’s a constant undercurrent of sexual innuendo, particularly from Mrs. Marcus, who’s hot for the reticent Goodman.
And so it goes, until a fed up Figgie declares himself to be Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia; if Figliozzo can’t change the reality of his world, at least he can pretend he can. And so “the game” begins. “Feltie” becomes Henry Kissinger, Marcus declares herself to be Bella Abzug (later switching to Goldie Meier), Grossman becomes Alan Greenspan, and Davidowitz, John D. Rockefeller. Mrs. Levy can’t decide who she wants to be but eventually settles on Secretary of the EPA. That leaves Stoopak, who has earlier retired to his room in a funk. Bob retrieves him, announcing him as “The President.”
Now resplendent in a three-piece suit, Stoopak becomes a changed man. He reengages with his comrades, announcing his administration is instituting proactive rules: the first is to enjoy. The second is “every day a visitor” (a phrase repeated frequently as the play progresses). “No one should die alone,” says President Stoopak, and so all agree if one of the crew become hospitalized, each of the others will take turns visiting every day.
Enter part-time nurse, Maria (Irma-Estel Laguerre) who asks “who put the hashish in the cookies?” Yet she is quick to catch on, helping Bob keep “the game” alive. As Act Two opens, the newly rejuvenated and transformed elders give Stoopak a “wild” 87th birthday party.
Alas, Stoopak falls ill post-party and is hospitalized, necessitating “every day a visitor” be put into practice. Several days into the round of visits, Stoopak dies, causing a crisis of confidence among the survivors. Eventually the group realizes they have to carry on with the game or risk falling back into their old fearful, reactive ways. Mrs. Levy is elected President.
A new resident, Mrs. Gertrude Lowenstein arrives (Laguerre); she is taken aback, thinking she’s been brought to an insane asylum, but is quickly set right and drawn into the game. As was inevitable, the characters pair up romantically at the close of the play, with card games giving way to dancing, for what is life if not a cosmic dance?
Every Day a Visitor was originally a short story published in The North American Review several decades ago, and reworked as a play, with a short run at the McGuinn Cazale Theater in 2000. Abrons, himself now an octogenarian, states he wanted to make old age with “all its infirmities and death around the corner funny – really funny.”
Every Day a Visitor may not have you doubling over with laughter, and the first act kvetch-fest does get repetitive, but the play certainly has a lot to say about aging in a slyly humorous and poignant way. The message is worthy, and the cast puts it across with great verve and purpose. No matter what your age, join the game; you’ll have a good time with these mishpucha.
Scenic design of Every Day a Visitor is by David L Arsenault, lighting design by Travis McHale, costume design by Gail Cooper-Hecht, and sound design by Mark Bruckner. Katy Moore is the production stage manager.
Every Day a Visitor runs at Theatre Row – Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. through
December 14. 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com
*Photos: Ronald L. Glassman