As a concept, Mid-Life! resembles Joe DiPietro’s I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change in that it’s smart, constantly inventive and stronger on verbal wit than memorable music. Whereas I Love You builds on youthful relationships, Mid-Life! riffs
on a wider range of themes about people from their mid-30s to their
70s, which means most audiences. While there’s plenty of sex, as in
Suzanne Tiffault’s uproarious “Biological Clock,” many more gags are
about health and medicine as when a distressed Tiffault (again) finds
her breasts caught in the “Musical Mammomatic.” This comes just before
the “tap-dancing Pap smear.” The opening number has an eye chart with
an impossible-to-read bottom line, a relic from the original title.
Hoop dreamers: From left, Peter Irwin, Shawn Forster and Jimmy Curtin in Rarely Done’s Mid-Life! The Crisis Musical.
While the phrase “a Walton and Walton
musical” may not yet have marquee cachet, the brothers have gotten
around and earned quality credits. Bob, for example, took an important
role in the Broadway production of The Drowsy Chaperone a year ago. The
program never indicates who did what, whether words or music, but over
the evening we feel two rival sensibilities emerging. One is impish and
confrontational, always pushing the envelope, like a skit at a high
school reunion in which the women (Aubry Ludington Panek, Tina Lee and
Tiffault) consume too much of everything and then reveal far more than
The other sensibility is softer and
more ironic, given to an almost Zen-like love of revealing paradox. A
helpful “interpreter” steps in to decipher the hidden messages blasting
forth from a squabbling couple. Beneath all the bluster, the wife still
loves and supports the husband. But hold the sweetness. The husband’s
disdain arises from even darker lusts than his anger reveals.
Deeper still is the number, “The Long
Goodbye,” which begins with what looks like a bunch of parents watching
their children play in a park. In a shock, just skirting some horribly
bad taste, we realize the grown-ups are actually watching their parents,
reduced to childishness through dementia and senility. The telling may
make this episode sound like a groaner, but the cast eventually proves
the dominant themes are acceptance and love.
Truth be told, Mid-Life! has not
been taking the country by storm, and reviews of out-of-town
productions, mostly in dinner theaters, are not as positive as this
one. Director Tursi understands the show belongs in a kind of
basement-cabaret-in-the-Village venue, which is what Jazz Central, 441
E. Washington St., feels like. Sets are somewhere between minimal to
nondescript, like white chairs and the “Mammomatic” contraption,
although every costume and prop earns back its investment.
The strength of the production, and the
volume of the laughter, build on the power of individual performers and
what Tursi knows he can get from them. In one number where characters
tell us they’re going to fess up and tell us the truth, Panek appears
as a Dolly Parton look-alike named Virginia Carlyle with a blonde
fright wig and prosthetic mammaries. Along with confessing what’s real
and what isn’t, she’s going to tell us her real age, if only she can
decide on it.
All six players enjoy star turns, but Mid-Life! is
a return to form for Shawn Forster, a veteran player with lots of fans,
seen little in recent seasons. When the script calls for comic excess,
he’s ready to roll, like the afro-wearing basketball player in “Weekend
Warriors,” whose macho aggression is pulled back by a henpecking wife,
or the tie-dyed slacker who wants his pregnant girlfriend to move in
with the family. As it seems like yesterday when a well-coifed Forster
was the lead in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, he’s probably too young for the target demographic of Mid-Life! But
as nature has shaved his pate in the interim, he is uniquely prepared
for several numbers. Consider the poignancy of the mock torch song,
“Lost Love,” in which the singer laments his shedding hair, later found
on pillows, in bed and the bathtub drain.
Aubry Ludington Panek retains her
street cred as a major comedienne, while Suzanne Tiffault enjoys one of
her best sequence of roles in many seasons. Tina Lee, better known for
dramatic characters (Wit’s End Players’ 2008 Sweeney Todd), kicks up a ruckus in a series of contrasting portrayals, especially the trailer trash housewife.
Opera singer Peter Irwin enhances his
second career as a singer-comedian for Tursi’s Rarely Done, getting
some of his best laughs as the beetle-browed hypochondriac who takes a
medicine that might cause stigmata in men with comb-overs. Irwin also
delivers the show’s most chilling line: “I’m going to take up skydiving
at 70 and not pull the cord so my kids don’t have to see me like this.”
White-thatched Jimmy Curtin, last seen as Sylvia St. Croix in the
Talent Company’s Ruthless, turns out to be a highly trained dancer adept at creating physical comedy with the right steps.
The Waltons’ music might not compel you
to buy the CD of the show, but music director Michael Copps is the
hardest-working performer in the show. And while Mid-Life! has nothing to teach about coping with the pain and humiliation of aging, sustained laughter is great for commiseration.
This production runs through Sept. 26. See Times Table for information.