EXTENDED THRU OCTOBER 27
by Carol Rocamora
If you dread the idea of assisted living, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Join the hip over-sixty crowd hanging out on 59e59 Theater’s A stage these days. They’ve come up with an intriguing alternative –a commune for married couples, best friends preferred, bucolic setting optimal. Benefits? Spacious accommodations, fabulous cooking (done by the men), congenial company, cool music, the occasional joint, and above all, earnest talk on a topic typically taboo for that age group – namely, sex.
That’s what’s on offer in Fern Hill, Michael Tucker’s amiable new-age comedy on aging, now playing at 59e59 Theaters. Three couples gather for a joint birthday party at the upstate farm belonging to Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer (Mark Blum), and everyone is gung-ho about the prospective commune – except Jer, that is. He’s turning 70, and as revealed during a post-party private chat among the women, he’s suffering from a late-life crisis (his latest book is long finished, and he fears there won’t be a next one). So Jer, predictably, is having an extra-marital affair, and the revelation threatens Sunny’s vision of aging gracefully together.
By now you’re anticipating a version of the couple-swapping film Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969), right? But no – playwright Tucker has another agenda. Act two turns into an earnest group therapy session on long-term marriages, commitment, and intimacy – with surprising results.
The set-up offers six juicy roles for a stellar corps of veteran actors. As Billy, the joint-smoking rock musician, Mark Linn-Baker is delightful, matched with Michiko (Jodi Long, a terrific dancer). As Darla, Ellen Parker exudes a solid strength opposite her eccentric husband Vincent (John Glover), who gives a charming performance as an artist-turning-eighty. As Sunny and Jer (you get the reference), Eikenberry and Blum give touching performances as a couple struggling to keep a long-term love going against formidable obstacles.
Ably directed by Nadia Tass, they make a seamless ensemble, and it’s a treat to watch them. Their group dancing around Jessica Parks’s attractive farm kitchen evokes scenes from a 1983 film about another set of couples, The Big Chill (who can forget “Ain’t too proud to beg” over the dishes?) There are memorable moments in Fern Hill, too – like the one early on in Act I, when Billy gives a show-stopping recitation of his recipe for spaghetti vongole da Michele (could that “Michele” be Michael Tucker, the playwright?)
Numerous contemporary plays feature scenes of friendship and support among women. So it’s refreshing to hear honest, frank talk between men about aging and sex – especially among members of the over-sixties set. (There’s a priceless series of ad-libs between Jer and Vincent, as the former tenderly tends to the latter after his hip replacement).
In sum, this celebration of food, friendship, aging, and (yes) marriage is irresistible, in this generous, spirited, warm-hearted play. The vongole recipe is irresistible, too (don’t worry, it’s in the program).
Photos: Carol Rosegg
Fern Hill, by Michael Tucker, directed by Nadia Tass, at 59e59 Theaters, now through October 20