By Sandi Durell
The Farmhouse – – a gathering womb where three couples congregate to celebrate their good friendships, warm feelings and special occasions in Michael Tucker’s new dramedy, Fern Hill, debuting at New Jersey Repertory Theatre in Long Branch, N.J. They are spending a birthday weekend together in upstate New York and genuinely care about and love each other. But enough to want to move in together – – in a communal sense?
Now that the years have crept up on all of them, the men each celebrating memorable decade birthdays – Billy (Tom McGowan) a rocker soon to be 60, Jer (David Rasche) 70, and the eldest, Vincent (John Glover) 80 – they joke, laugh a lot, love their wine and pot, and especially food and clam sauce. And, mind you, the men (or, at least two of them) love to cook and banter continuously about it.
Act I is comfortable chatter time for the six friends where witticisms fly and we garner some insight into who these people are but begin to wonder what’s really going on. No clues actually emerge until Act I is practically over when we seem to be somewhat misled into thinking that the crux of the matter has to do with Sunny’s (Jill Eikenberry) announcement that she’s given careful and positive thought to all of them living together at the Farmhouse that she and husband Jer own, likening it to a kind of ‘orphanage,’ the women already on board. With impending age comes medical issues they will all face and they’d have each other. Proof positive is Vincent who is readying for hip surgery and will rehab at the Farmhouse. Billy’s wife Michiko (Jodi Long) thinks it’s a pretty good idea especially since her man still spends a lot of time on the road with his rock band and Darla, an artist, (Dee Hoty), who is quite a bit younger than her painter husband Vincent, seems to agree as she readies to take off for Vienna for a showing of her work at a gallery. But Jer isn’t on board. Why? Act I ends with the elephant in the room . . . cat out of the bag . . . he’s having an affair with a much younger woman at the college where he teaches.
Now we get down to the nitty gritty of what this play is about. Sunny has stopped adoring Jer, resulting in their once loving sexual relationship falling apart. He admits the devastation losing her as his compass.
By Act II, we feel like voyeurs peeking into a group encounter of mid life crisis couples as they tell all, relating their intimacies with their partners, fear of dying, affairs and best kept secrets. From scared to erotic, each is transparent revealing themselves and their sexual habits, while a joke flies here and there to keep levity alive. Will Sunny and Jer stay together as they get ready for yet another dinner with friends? Will they all move in together? You’ll have to write your own ending.
The cast is uniformly top of the line featuring some of the best in the business, directed by Nadia Tass, the topic – – enough to attract many of a certain age to Fern Hill. The well-designed comfy Farmhouse by Jessica Parks, includes a kitchen – dining area, living room space and doors for a peek outside to a garden. Lighting is by Jill Nagle with Sound by Merek Royce Press.
Photos Courtesy of NJ Rep
Fern Hill, by Michael Tucker, runs at NJ Repertory, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ thru September 9 www.njrep.org