By Tom Nissley
Long Wharf has introduced the ‘world premiere’ of "Lil’s 90th," a play by Darci Picoult that showcases a family system with aging grandparents, a daughter, a grandson, and his current girl friend. The grandmother, Lil (Lois Smith), is throwing a party for her 90th birthday, at which she intends to perform as a cabaret singer accompanied by her grandson, Tommy (Nick Blaemire). The preparations for the party are well set but Lil’s husband, Charlie (David Marguiles), suddenly invests all the couple’s money in a scam - one of those deals where you advance some funds in good faith and will receive gobs of money in return. Charlie believes in it, and manages to give away an impressive nest egg, highlighting the problems which can happen to or in an aging population, and causing much consternation for his family.
‘World premiere’ is a euphemism for ‘work in progress,’ and Lil’s 90th may be tightened or reframed if it appears elsewhere. As it is in present form, both the writing and the direction allow too much similarity to a TV sitcom. Smith and Marguiles, a married couple off the stage, certainly reflect the manners and mannerisms of persons who have lived together a long time, but every-so-often the same dialogue appears, and although it’s attributed to Alzheimers in the wrap-a-round publicity, I had the sense that the writer just threw it in again. The injection of a grown, struggling, daughter (Kristine Nielsen) who is as frustrated with her parents’ style as they are with hers is not unrealistic but it is as undeveloped as the rest of the plot, allowing laughs but not much meaning. Blaemire is well cast as Tommy.
The set works beautifully, with a pass-through kitchen at one end, a living room, a bedroom, and beyond that a dressing and bathroom that are implied. It’s easy to believe that a couple has nested here.
When the messiness of the situation got to a stuck place (grandpa wandering the streets with what’s left of their money, grandma in nervous collapse and still dressing for her party), Lucy Walters, as Deirdre, the girlfriend who has just met this family, said "I think I’d better leave now." I empathized with her.
"Lil’s 90th" premieres through February 7. Tickets and information are at www.longwharf.org
Tom Nissley for the Ridgelea Reports on Theatre - January 20