1. Archive

Chuckles don't outweigh cliches

If you like to listen to your Aunt Maude and Cousin Tilly chitchat for hours on end, you'll probably love Old Men and Old Women, the current offering at the Angel "garden cafe" Theatre in Holiday.

Old Men, a harmlessly sweet, two-act comedy by St. Petersburg resident Vernon H. Troutner, is the story of two women who meet each day on a park bench and become drawn into each other's lives. As one patron remarked on her way to her car after the show, "It's not all that bad."

Unfortunately, it's not all that good, either.

Most of the dialogue is as well-worn and commonplace as longtime neighbors rambling over their stitching around the kitchen table. "God helps those who help themselves," says Ida, and, later, "You will be the death of me." Not exactly Neil Simon.

The play earns gentle laughter with the occasional more original lines: "Everyone knows old men become perverse in thought and inoperable in function," quips Lucille as she eyes some old men on a nearby park bench.

The play rouses some interest as the first act draws to a close with the two women inviting the two old men up to their apartment to celebrate Lucille's birthday. The second act actually earns some real laughter.

Even that is offset, however, by the obvious, drawn-out milking of those all-too few chuckles; the audience gets the joke six or seven beats before the unconvincingly dense Lucille catches on. How much better it would be to let us all laugh together.

This is not to say the evening is a loss. There are some nice moments to be had watching the uptight spinster Lucille get in touch with her sexuality and some truly funny double-entendres and misunderstandings.

Still, they aren't enough to make up for the cliches and banal conversation that dominate the opening act and ripple through the second.

One problem could be addressed with more age-appropriate casting. Karen Troutner and Carol Valdes are obviously accomplished players. Ms. Troutner shows skill in a sudden outburst of emotion in the second act. Even so, and despite a gray wig, she appears far too young to be playing the wise old "Jewish mother" she purports to be. Ms. Valdes, with her natural blond hair and firm, athletic physique, seems much too pert to be playing a flakey, forgetful, hard-of-hearing "old maid" librarian. Perhaps with heavier makeup (and some flab on those abs) or maybe with some real Old Women, this play could be heartwarming and the audience could forgive some of the long lapses between snappy dialogue.

As it is, the audience is mostly challenged to stifle yawns.

Old Men and Old Women started out as a one-act play paired with a David Mamet one-acter at Ruth Eckerd Hall back in 1990. Troutner expanded it to nearly two hours, including intermission, and has brought it for its tryout run to the Angel.

I didn't see the original, but I suspect the additions are what makes the play drag like a TV sitcom padded and puffed into a movie.

Theater review

Old Men and Old Women, a play in two acts by Vernon H. Troutner, at Angel "garden cafe" Theatre weekends through July 30. Performances are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12.50, plus tax. Doors open one hour before performances for coffee and desserts at additional cost.