Mike Vogel’s new play Senior Moment is a charming comedy with serious undertones, especially for two of today’s mushrooming groups, the elderly and the “sandwich generation.”
It centers on a beautifully nuanced performance by Bob Ari as 77-year-old widower Jack, a grouchy stick-in-the-mud who blossoms into something like his full true self only after oh-so-reluctantly trying out the retirement community/assisted living life, at the urging of his aggravated, uptight, but devoted son Larry (Ian Lowe). Discovering a ratio of four women for every man at the new residence, Jack finds himself in heavy social demand, first and especially by Violet (Marina Re), an impossibly peppy, uninhibited flirt with unexpected depths.
Vogel writes in an old-fashioned Jewish-humor style but steers clear of schlock and schmaltz, stripping his characters to their more-or-less lovable essences while revealing what seems a hopeful, even sunny view of human nature. It’s a refreshing dose of positivity in a city blindsided by recent realities.
Malka (Amanda Kristin Nichols), a 35-year-old facility employee, scrounges to support herself and her young son by earning extra money giving off-the-books shoulder massages to whiny, randy old resident Chet (Brad Bellamy). Malka is a wonderful creation who has the proverbial heart of gold – and hers gets a crush on old Jack. Nichols does a marvelously focused seriocomic job with the juicy and appealing role, Russian accent and all.
Lowe makes us root for touchy, repressed Larry, whose lifelong failure to live up to his father’s expectations will ring so widely true. Fizzily independent Violet surprises herself by genuinely falling for Jack, so that when their happy future turns out to be not so assured, it’s a crushing sequence, as Jack has become so memorably endearing.
Even Chet, always feeling threatened and cheated, merits sympathy in Bellamy’s funny, sincere portrayal. He reminds us that while a blossoming old age is possible for some, others never rid themselves of their accrued anxieties and resentments. Without that bit of balance, the story as a whole might have acquired a slightly treacly taste.
The script also digs into Jack and Larry’s family drama. Even as Violet romances him, Jack carries a photo of his late wife – but it’s from their wedding, before innocent hopefulness gave way to a half-century-long passionless marriage. When Malka calls Jack “youthful” it’s a poignant reminder of how much of life he’d sacrificed over all that time. In a last confrontation with his father, Larry pulls out the heavy weaponry: “You were never warm and you didn’t do shit with us.” That is, indeed, the Jack we met in the opening scene, when the “true” Jack was still as locked up and frustrated as his apparently socially inept son.
A good deal of credit must also go to director Donald Brenner for drawing out such strongly convincing performances. And Fan Zhang’s costuming is dead-on for these New York “types,” who quickly become fully rounded human beings in this warm-hearted but coolly observed comedy. Senior Moment runs through Dec. 4 at Theatre Row’s Lion Theatre. Tickets and information are available online, or for tickets call 212-239-6200.