Four Characters in Search of a Plot

By Geary Danihy

You know how it is when you visit the old folks. They tend to ramble a bit as they weave past achievements and present problems together into a pastiche that has meaning primarily for them. You listen dutifully, for they deserve respect and attention, but there’s no avoiding a certain disconnect. Such is the case with Quartet, which recently opened at the Sharon Playhouse. You understand that what the four characters in the play are talking about is important to them, but you can’t help but wonder why it should be important to you. Perhaps this is because Ronald Harwood, the playwright, wrote a play where what is at stake seems to be little more than the pot in a penny-ante poker game.

The setting for what is essentially a drawing room play (or parlor or salon play) is a music room, pleasingly designed by Michael Schweikardt, in a retirement home for aging artists who have fallen on hard times. As the play opens we meet Reginald (Joseph Hindy), Cecily (a.k.a. “Sissy” -- Patricia McAneny) and Wilfred (Greg Mullavey), all former opera singers who are fixated on an upcoming celebration at the home scheduled for Oct. 10, Giuseppe Verdi’s birthday (Sissy refers to him as “Joe Green”). The residents of the home will perform in “Joe’s” honor.

Each of the characters has minor quirks: Reginald is aloof as he seeks to find a satisfactory definition for “art”; Sissy drifts in and out of reality and often welcomes people home from Karachi, though they have not travelled beyond the confines of the home; and Wilfred strives to maintain a faux randiness that his age precludes. Into this mix comes Jean (Elizabeth Franz), a true diva who was once married (very briefly) to Reginald. Her appearance allows the three residents to consider the possibility of them performing the quartet from Verdi’s Rigoletto. Jean will initially have nothing to do with it.

Of course, there are back stories and reveals, but the back stories are not very interesting and the reveals can only elicit polite yawns, for there is nothing truly dark or devastating lurking in the background, thus there is nothing up for grabs. Hence, what director John Simpkins has to work with are four character studies of people who, in the long run, are simply not very interesting.

This is unfortunate, for the cast members have distinguished pedigrees and work hard to bring their characters to life. McAneny is engagingly ditzy as Sissy, Hindy gives us a troubled persona who maintains a false front of intellectuality, Mullavey is a wonderful “dirty old man” and Franz is an ideal diva who clings to her former glory as a drowning sailor might to a life raft. Fine performances all. Thus, the enjoyment to be found in watching Quartet emanates from style and thespian talent rather than content.

Quartet runs through Aug. 28. For tickets call (860) 364-7469 (ext. 201 in the summer/ext. 100 in the winter) or go to http://sharonplayhouse.org/theatre/tickets/

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