Life and love have a way of repeating with different variations on a theme. This play is an intermittently entertaining way of illustrating that with a story of mature love entwined with a story of young love which does not wholly work.
Life is reasonably good for Dee (Deborah Mitchell), a widow quietly working as a sex phone caller, even if she shares her home with her emotionally immature son and aspiring children’s writer, Scott (Kevin Cope). However, her burgeoning romance with the retired English teacher turned church volunteer, Tom (John Palmer), is threatened to be spoiled by her secret occupation. Meanwhile, Scott’s own ambiguity about his childhood friend, Jennifer (Heather Rivet), seems to be posing its own quandaries.
Romance stories of the mature are less common in our culture, ribald behaviour in them, even in a mild form, is rarer still even years after the classic TV sitcom The Golden Girls made it a source of light humour. With that in mind, this play has a refreshing charm as a privately uninhibited widow and an amiable if stiffnecked English teacher work out an awkward relationship. With each tentative gesture and move, Mitchell and Palmer infuse a meaningful humanity of the story. Even in their own scenes, their talent shines through with their characters’ idiosyncratic ways that feels quite human.
However, the pace of the overall story is laborious with the romantic subplot of Jennifer and Scott feeling far less appealing. Considering it involves a well-educated woman trying to get the romantic interest of a man who is a complete bore with the apparent emotional development of an eight-year-old, the emotional impact is impaired as you keep wondering why the woman is bothering at all. While Rivet feels engagingly believable at this quixotic ambition for her character, Cope perhaps performs too well bringing a character to life who is so childishly unlikable.
However, the story has a decent climax when the secrets come out on Thanksgiving, beginning with a beautiful subtlety, until the truth explodes in their faces for the big confrontations. That itself proves to be a mixed bag; while Dee and Tom’s argument is treated with intelligence and brokenhearted intensity, Jennifer and Scott’s parallel conflict is amateurishly stiff and unconvincing enough to injure the whole scene’s credibility. The result is an unsatisfying conclusion where the cliche seems to sink the touching ambience of the story. In the end, there is an ambiguity that comes as a relief considering the main character is all but gently browbeaten into giving up a career she enjoys.
The stage is of a simple construction that easily suggests a widow now in difficult times: well-appointed, but with a hint of decay. With the offstage voice and the ending music, the whole world is created with the right atmosphere.
While this play is woefully uneven, there is heart enough to engage and entertain for the discerning audience.