By Dee Jae Cox
Bette Davis said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” And rarely have I seen a more prime example of that adage than in the World Premier of George Eastman’s play, “Happy Hour,” currently in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre. Happy Hour, stars Gavin Macleod (The Love Boat/Mary Tyler Moore show) as 85-year-old Harry Townsend, whose picturesque life has faded like old photos as he copes with the barriers and challenges that age has unfairly thrust upon him. Macleod is spectacular in the role of an aging man who is facing the loss of his waning independence. His heart wrenching performance had me teary-eyed on more than one occasion. His humor and life philosophies were moving and poignant. Harry Townsend is a well-developed and empathetic character who reflects our greatest fears about growing older and epitomizes that best that we can become with a life well lived.
Unfortunately I did not find the character of his son, Alan, played by actor John Hawkinson, nearly as empathetic or likable as the father. He was too removed from the heart of the story for my taste. He was the ‘spokesperson’ for his sister who was the actual caretaker of their father. Why the sister, who was said to be the one who actually had a relationship with their father, couldn’t’ speak for herself was unclear to me. Alan had long since left his native Vermont for the California Coast and yet was back to coerce and cajole his father into making choices that were in his own best interest, as determined by his children. Hawkinson’s performance felt harsh and distant. The character seemed angry with his father for not wanting to follow the dictates of his son. This is a story that so many can identify with in dealing with those precarious relationships as the roles reverse and the child becomes the parent. This play expresses so much of what most will experience and yet it misses the mark in not exploring the actual role of a caretaker child and an aging parent. I kept thinking how much richer the story would be if it actually explored the dynamics between an adult child struggling for independence from caring for an aging parent who was increasingly becoming more dependent.
Ron Celona’s direction is impressive. Allowing the breaking of the forth wall as Harry delivers some of his most moving lines directly to the audience as he looks out that invisible window towards the lake. Each step seemed to have purpose and intent as this two-person show gave just enough movement and action to keep the dialogue from becoming flat and stagnant.
Jimmy Cuomo’s set was detailed and flawless. Randy Hansen’s sound, executed perfectly by Sound Technician, Karen Goodwin, provided my favorite nuances of the show as the subtle sounds of the outdoors were heard every time the front door of the house was opened. It gave genuine feel to the show and set a perfect backdrop for this dramatic story.
This is a show for all ages, though probably not a story that would entertain young children.
“Happy Hour, is in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre located at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 through November 22nd.
For Reservations: call 760-296-2966, or visit www.cvrep.org
Dee Jae Cox, is a playwright, director and producer. She is the Cofounder and Artistic Director for The Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Project and the host of KPTR 1450’s hit radio show, “California Woman 411” in Palm Springs.