By Dee Jae Cox
Playwright Luigi Pirandello wrote a play in 1921 titled “Six Characters in search of an Author.” For some reason that title has stuck with me through the years and never seemed to reveal the depth of its meaning until seeing A.R. Gurney’s dramedy, “Later Life,” currently in production at CV Repertory Theatre in Rancho Mirage. Later Life, can most aptly be described as intriguing and wonderful characters in search of an interesting plot.
Later Life, is set in 1993 on a beautiful apartment terrace overlooking Boston Harbor. It is the story of Austin, (William Fair) a waspy, upper class man who is still longing for the days of the George Bush (Sr.) Presidency and has lived his entire life afraid that something awful is going to happen to him, until he creates his own self-fulfilling prophecy, bypassing many of the roads less traveled in favor of a safe and secure life. Ruth, (Barbara Niles,) who seems to always be living on the edge, reappears in Austin’s life 30 years after their initial meeting on the isle of Capri, when both were young and carefree. Regretfully a chance meeting at a dinner party and an effort to rekindle a missed and long forgotten moment is not enough to alter the course of their diverse fates.
Through out the evening a multitude of other guests flow on and off the patio, all performed with great skill and humor by Teri Bibb and Joel Bryant. My favorite was Jimmy and his ode to cigarettes while vowing to smoke his last one. It was this succession of entertaining and unique characters that really added flavor and interest to Ruth and Austin’s slow moving reunion. Bibb and Bryant are so good in these various roles that it took me a moment to even realize that it was the same two actors in different wigs and costumes. Bravo to Aalsa Lee’s costume designs.
Four talented actors performing nearly a dozen characters, provide the spice for a very vanilla script. Luke Yankee’s direction keeps this low action story moving and rarely have I seen a set that by all rights should be credited as an additional character, Jimmy Cuomo’s set design talents are unsurpassed and Moira Wilkie Whitaker’s lights create the perfect ambiance for this chilly Boston evening. Unfortunately there is only so much you can do with an uninteresting script that feels targeted towards a very small audience… older white men of upper class background who vote Republican and reach middle age with few stories to tell.
Gurney, a former MIT Professor, is obviously a well-educated and intelligent man, but his script seems to be as safe and predictable as his lead character, only dancing on the edge of adventure, but never taking that leap of faith that would provide insights to this privileged life or develop the character beyond a stereotype.
CV Rep seldom fails to offer a professional and thought provoking production. They are without doubt a top-notch theater in the Coachella Valley. It’s an exceptionally rare occasion that I walk out of one of their shows uninspired. Unfortunately this was such an occasion.
Later Life, is in production at the Coachella Valley Repertory Theatre located at 69930 Highway 111, Suite 116, Rancho Mirage, CA 92270 through May 21st.
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. www.californiawoman411.com.