If you ask me…

- Tom Holehan

“LIL’S 90th”, A WORLD PREMIERE AT LONG WHARF

Acting greats David Margulies and Lois Smith are pretty much the sole reason to catch “Lil’s 90th”, a predictable new play about aging by Darci Picoult currently observing its world premiere at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.   The actors, real-life off-stage partners, do their best to raise the quality level of Ms. Picoult’s well-meaning but ultimately weightless kitchen sink drama.   
            
“Lil’s 90th” finds the aging Lil (Ms. Smith) and doting husband Charlie (Mr. Margulies) in the midst of planning a gala birthday celebration that will feature Lil in a cabaret setting singing some old standards.  Charlie’s big surprise for his wife – soon discovered – is that he’s invested the couple’s life savings into an obvious telephone scam and this, coupled with his slowly developing Alzheimer’s (never mentioned), makes up the bulk of the drama over an extended and tedious two acts. 

The basic premise is an important one to be sure, but nothing we haven’t already witnessed in countless Lifetime television dramas or better-observed plays like “Painting Churches” or “The Waverly Gallery”.

In addition, Picoult’s secondary characters seem adrift in the writing.  Lil and Charlie’s daughter, Stephanie (an overwrought Krisine Nielsen), is a single mom battered down by low self-esteem.  Her son (Nick Blaemire) and his girlfriend (Lucy Walters) arrive on the scene as back-up band for Lil’s concert, but are little more than stock figures as written and rather disposable in the writing and acting.  Ms. Walters does share, however, a lovely scene with Margulies late in the play when she demonstrates her picture phone and downloadable tunes to his amazement.  There is little that could salvage the play’s final scene, though: Lil’s awkwardly written and staged (by Jo Bonney) cabaret party which climaxes the play and then fizzles to an unsatisfying and abrupt end.

Still, there does remain the singular pleasure in “Lil’s 90th” of watching Smith and Margulies play off each other as only two old pros could.  True, the lines could be better memorized and pacing more acute at this point in the run, but a lifetime of living and stagecraft has given these performers a born-to-the-theatre legacy that celebrates the sheer joy of performance.  Their scenes together are rich in history and familiarity and are often reminiscent of the great stage partnership shared by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy late in their careers.  One hopes the couple finds a project more deserving of their talents before too much longer.

 “Lil’s 90th” continues at Long Wharf through February 7th.  For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4282 or visit www.longwharf.org.

Tom Holehan is Co-chairman of the Connecticut Critics Circle and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company.  He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.  His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.

This review appeared in Elm City Newspapers beginning January 20, 2010.


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