THEATER REVIEW: Actors coax signs of life from hackneyed ‘Old Love’

Old Love/ Taconic Stage Company/ Church of St. John in the Wilderness/ Copake Falls

THE PUBLICATION DATE for Norm Foster’s “Old Love” is 2008; but somehow the play feels more like a musty 1980s television script. You’ll be glad that a few funny lines pop up between the stretches of familiar dialogue, and you’ll be even happier that this production has actress Susan Fullerton, turned loose.

Everyone who mentions Foster’s work feels obligated to remind us that he is very prolific and that he is Canada’s most produced playwright. (Canada is that place to which you feel like moving when you are sick of Lindsay Lohan and the Supreme Court–or when you remember that story-genius Alice Munro lives there.) But Foster’s voluminous output may be explained by the likelihood that most of his ideas have been recycled from in-vogue pop-culture. That process is not as time-consuming as art.

In the tiny performance space at St. John in the Wilderness, Copake Falls, two actors, the above-mentioned Fullerton and Jeffrey Judd, play all the characters in various ages and aspects (young, middle-aged, ditzy, duplicitous, rude, bumbling, narrating, etc.). Yes. It’s another two-actor show.

Most theater-goers are probably very sympathetic toward poverty-induced minimalism. For decades the creative ingenuity required to make cheaply produced theater was fascinating—somehow more hip and virtuous than spectacle or any visual voluptuousness. But after a while one begins to long for beautiful, elaborate sets and a cast of thousands. (Well, maybe a cast of 12. These days, even the Metropolitan Opera is downsizing.) In the miniature performing space at St. John, the Christian milieu (in addition to the square footage) threatens to suffocate the comedy. Perhaps it should. It’s a church.

But, back to Susan Fullerton and company: She and Judd underline the phrase “Old Love” as the old-relative-to-kids expression that it really is. These actors are well-preserved middle-agers. No old lady looks that good in a mini-skirt!

Watching Fullerton glide seamlessly between a cool narrator-widow, an elegant if “miserable, cranky, pissed off” young person, and a wiggly, shallow narcissist (forth and back) is very engaging.

It seems that in previous Taconic Stage productions, Fullerton was a bit stingy with her gifts. This role–I mean, these characters–open up her good stuff, in spite of the fact that she must deal with Foster’s often banal dialogue. (“It’s my time,” etc.)

Judd is stuck with a main character who seems such a bumbling masochist that it is difficult to root for his long romantic obsession. Would anyone persevere in the face of such repeated, snotty rejections? The character threatens credulity. The actor copes well.

The transitions are magically accomplished with a red flower or black horn-rims, along with an abundance of changing body language or voice nuance. Some of the transitions even happen before our eyes, in a second or less. The effect is achieved in collaboration with the super-smooth direction of Carl Ritchie.

I sometimes quibble with Ritchie when he faces his actors flat-front too often and when he relies on pop-leaning choices. The latter can make one curious to see what he would do with more challenging material.

Once again I am struck with a theater reality: Acting and directing are hard but doable. Creating a good script is harder. Much harder. And rare.

See Fullerton and Judd this weekend: August 8th or 9th at 7 pm, or Sunday at 3 pm. Arrange tickets at www.brownpapertickets.com. Notice the generous policy: “Seniors and students pay what you can at the door.” Even if you object to the punctuation.

 

 

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