Theatre and Age

“Still Life With Chickens:” New Samoan Play Confronts Loneliness Through Comedy

Samoan playwright David Fa’auliuli Mamea’s Still Life With Chickens won the 2017 Adam Award for Best New Zealand Play and now, its stylish premiere production is touring the country. It concerns Mama, an elderly Samoan woman who befriends a stray chicken. While the premise seems slight, and the production is light and humorous, the script digs deeply into an issue not often explored in New Zealand theatre, loneliness among the elderly. Loneliness has become a major health issue internationally, with British Prime Minister Theresa May appointing a Minster for Loneliness in January 2018 in response to a report that...

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“Five Easy Pieces”: Milo Rau’s Extraordinary Work About Child Murderer

  It’s not often that a children’s theatre features a piece about a pedophile and child murderer in its repertoire. But on rare occasions when vision, intelligence, and courage align, this kind of programming can change lives. Last week, Swiss director Milo Rau’s piece made by the commission for Ghent’s Campo theatre and dealing with the Belgian child murderer Marc Dutroux was shown at London’s Unicorn theatre for two nights. No less than nine institutions from Europe and Singapore are listed as co-producers of this extraordinary theatrical experiment which has already been on tour for a couple of years....

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Foster On Aging: Amusing But Often Tasteless

Jones And Barry In The Home by Norm Foster; a 3P Productions, Directed by Derek Ritschel As we age, we have two choices: to make the most of the golden years or to admit defeat, viewing the time we have left as a dark tunnel leading to oblivion. In Norm Foster’s 2015 play—number 55 from Canada’s most prolific playwright—Jonas and Barry, who meet at Gateway Gardens seniors’ residence, represent the two viewpoints. Jonas aspires to be an aging Don Juan. Barry, whose daughter Rosie works at the home, has given up on the thought of a happy ending. Because...

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Edward Albee’s “Three Tall Women”: A Dissent

My reaction to Edward Albee’s Three Tall Women when it first arrived in New York in 1994 was nicely glossed by the illustrious Uta Hagen in describing why she turned down the play’s central role: “I think that the old woman is relentlessly hateful—boring.” Just so. Ever since this play won the Pulitzer Prize that year, its fans have insisted that the hatefulness of its lead character—called simply A—served profound, redeeming ends. Critics across the “brow” spectrum, tired of hammering the talented, once lionized author for his string of disappointments over two decades, found themselves faced with an interesting, somewhat better...

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Mind The Gap: Theatre Group For The Over 60s Helps Salisbury Playhouse Cater For All

One of the things Salisbury Playhouse tries to do is provide opportunities for everyone in the community to experience theatre and the pleasure that it brings. Our theatre group for the over 60s, Mind the Gap, supports our remit of putting the key priorities of our local authority Wiltshire Council at the heart of our work. To help Wiltshire Council fulfill its key priority of inclusivity, we aim to provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities. Mind the Gap meets weekly at Salisbury Playhouse for a variety of theatre-based workshops. The group has been running for 10...

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The Art Of Ageing Theatre Project

A first glance at the website for “The Art of Ageing” theatre project may lead you to conclude that this is another alarmist “gray tsunami” reaction to the aging of the world’s population. The bullet points on the home page include “Shrinking young generation,” “An additional 24 million people will live in Europe by 2040,” and “By 2060, 65-year and older people will make up 42% of the entire EU population,” followed by “What do we do?” However, rather than taking the common ageist approach, these theatre practitioners responded to issues of aging with innovative, collaborative work. Although it...

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Monster Mashup: Mabou Mines Takes On Tennessee Williams

The ghost of Mary Shelley keeps rudely interrupting Mabou Mines’s Glass Guignol: The Brother And Sister Play, an exquisitely overstuffed assemblage of Tennessee Williams’s texts about his troubled sister Rose. Shelley appears at the top of the piece as an empty dress, texting back and forth with her companion Lord Byron about misplaced playbills, initial impressions of the performers, and aesthetic theory. What we are about to see is an “essay play contrived of Readymades,” she writes, alluding to Duchamp, “The Brother And Sister Play pretends there are such things as ‘Literary Readymades.’” Her analysis is sound, instructive, and...

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Come On A My House: “Fireflies” at The Long Wharf Theatre

The kitchen of an aging spinster in a small town in Texas may be an unlikely place to find romance, and that’s the challenge of Fireflies, Matthew Barber’s adaptation of a novel by Annette Sanford, now playing at the Long Wharf Theatre. The school-marm, the nosey neighbor, the drifter / hired man are figures almost archetypal in their familiarity, and in their evocation of a certain kind of nostalgic Americana. To instill such types with believable, three-dimensional reality is not easy, but that’s what a trio of top-flight actors does with these roles, directed by Gordon Edelstein. Jane Alexander, a...

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Spanning Centuries: PTP’s “Arcadia”

The Potomac Theatre Project (PTP) has descended on Atlantic Stage 2’s subterranean bunker of a space in Chelsea for their annual repertory residency. This summer they’re presenting a British double bill of Howard Barker’s Pity In History and Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia. Arcadia was first presented in New York in 1995 at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater. A Broadway revival was subsequently mounted in 2011. The play was justly heralded as an emotional breakthrough from the always-erudite, not-always-vulnerable Stoppard. It’s easy to see what motivated the PTP to mount this witty play in 2017. Arcadia is an unexpectedly accessible play,...

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“Autumn on Pluto” Project Provides Aid to Geriatric Patients

Two years before creating Autumn on Pluto, Sashko Brama visited a geriatric home while helping his volunteer friends. This visit ignited a concept of a performative project based on interviews with the inhabitants of a care home. The first part of the project provided that actors should frequently visit the geriatric home. Later psychologist Alyona Barbul held art therapy sessions for the inhabitants of this facility. Eventually, the art therapy transformed into a separate project Spring on Pluto where, as the prospect goes, “inhabitants of care home have a chance to draw, sculpt and meditate that creates a positive atmosphere...

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“Escaped Alone”: Catastrophe and Fear Meet Surrealism

Like Beckett and Pinter, Caryl Churchill is writing fugues in old age (she’s 77). Far Away, A Number, and now Escaped Alone: these are all exquisitely crafted contrapuntal compositions that work much more through suggestion than statement, interweaving themes of global disaster, the banality of the everyday, and the mutability of memory and time. The plays are luminous, reverberant, cunning, but they can also be frustrating because they are only obliquely political. They flash topicality (environmental disaster, cloning) only to veer off into surrealism. It helps to remember that their real subject is the fear and anxiety beneath what...

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Women on the Verge: Caryl Churchill’s “Escaped Alone”

In an 1896 essay on “The Tragic in Daily Life,” the Symbolist playwright Maurice Maeterlinck extols the virtues of the silence and stillness that typify his own static dramas, maintaining that ostentatious theatrical display only distracts from the subtle vibrations of authentic being. “I have grown to believe,” he writes, “that an old man, seated in his armchair, waiting patiently, with his lamp beside him, giving unconscious ear to all the eternal laws that reign about his house, interpreting without comprehending… submitting with bent head to the presence of his soul and his destiny—an old man…motionless as he is,...

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Last Spring, Dementia Made It to Broadway! Part 2

Last spring, dementia made it to Broadway! Let me be clear: I am an Avant-garde type and I am wary of Broadway.  The intersection of Theater and Age is a subject of interest to me, but so far as I know, until last season, it was not of interest to Broadway. But suddenly, dementia–and not just any old dementia but the dementia of the old–emerged in this very American funhouse–that is, Broadway. What does this mean? The Father, by the 38-year-old French playwright Florian Zeller, came to Broadway fresh from its enormous London West End success (fresh in turn,...

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Dementia: The Theater Season’s “In” Disease Part 1

Not so long ago characters didn’t lose their memories onstage, even if on rare occasion actors forget their lines.  Yes, we saw Kathleen Chalfont die of metastatic ovarian cancer in Margaret Edson’s Wit. We saw Tony Kushner’s Prior Walter and Roy Cohn dying of AIDS in Tony Kushner’s Angels in America (Walter lives, Cohn dies) , and Jane Fonda as a musicologist succumb to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) right in the middle of a research project on Beethoven in Moises Kaufman’s 33 Variations. But, unless you think King Lear has Alzheimer’s, when have you seen an older...

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A Golden Age of Theater for Japan’s Seniors

At the age of 91, Saitama resident Izumi Noguchi is speaking at his first press conference — at least as an actor anyway. “When I saw an advert in April inviting anyone aged 60 or older to audition for a new project called 10,000 Gold Theater, I just felt like challenging myself to do something I’d never had a chance to try before,” he says. Noguchi is the oldest person who joined the 10,000 Gold Theater ensemble, which debuted the production Gold Symphony, my dream, your dream at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama City on Dec. 7. It was...

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National Theatre Asks Actors Over-80 to Improvise Play Without Script

A new play staged by the National Theatre will thrust actors in their 70s and 80s onto the stage without a script and ask them to improvise a storyline. Lost Without Words, described as “a theatrical experiment,” recognises that memory loss means that elderly actors often find it harder to recall scripts. Michael Gambon confessed that he uses an earpiece to prompt his lines onstage because his memory is so bad. Rufus Norris, the NT’s artistic director, said the play, would feature “older actors in their 70s and and 80s, actors who had spent their lives on stage bringing...

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“Seventeen” at Belvoir – A Brilliant Theatrical Event

Our experience of plays is always profoundly affected by how they end: comedy or tragedy, death or marriage, hope or despair. My response to Matthew Whittet’s Seventeen (directed by Anne-Louise Sarks at Sydney’s Belvoir Theatre), a play that thinks hard about how our endings are related to our beginnings, is no exception. And that means this review contains spoilers. Sorry. The motivating idea behind Seventeen is a brilliant one: actors in their seventies play 17-year-olds on their last day of school, poised on the brink of an adulthood which they can barely comprehend. The canny trick of using older...

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