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GERIATRIC GAMESMANSHIP: ‘Senior Moments’ captures the world of aging with smiles and chuckles

Don Fried’s “Senior Moments” offers a date-night extravaganza just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Don Fried’s “Senior Moments” offers a date-night extravaganza just in time for Valentine’s Day. Since opening in 2012, Alisa Harris’ TheatreNOW has been Wilmington’s premier dinner theatre, with Chef Denise Gordon at the helm of offering tantalizing menus galore. Clearly, they have struck a chord because the night I attended “Senior Moments,” it was sold out. In fact, demand for tickets is so fierce TheatreNOW has added two matinees to accommodate. Bravo!

LEFT TO RIGHT: Carol Pendergrast, Juan Fernandez and Marie Chonko play diverse characters navigating the play field of dating later in life in ‘Senior Moments,’ now playing at TheatreNOW through February 17. Courtesy photo.

LEFT TO RIGHT: Carol Pendergrast, Juan Fernandez and Marie Chonko play diverse characters navigating the play field of dating later in life in ‘Senior Moments,’ now playing at TheatreNOW through February 17. Courtesy photo.

Fried’s script consists of a series of vignettes shining a light on various aspects of the ageing experience. It reminds audiences that ageing is not for sissies. Also, if this is my future, it looks terrifying and I am not sure I am up for it.

The show opens with Michelle Reiff devoting her life to a one-armed bandit at a casino. Dressed in a DayGlo pink T-shirt, and demanding people inquire about her grandchildren, she accosts a retired military supply officer (Joe Lomonoco). Lomonoco is caught between conflicting aspects of his personality: a rigid adherence to rules and order, mashed against a desire to be civil and respectful. Besides, someone is actually expressing an interest in him. It might be a slightly crazy, terribly over-the-top stranger in a DayGlo shirt who insists he express an interest in her as well (which beautifully lays the groundwork for a joke in the show’s second half), but someone is at least expressing an interest in him. Clearly, few people ever do. It doesn’t take much to see why. Neither he nor Reiff’s character are exactly compelling people, but they have become themselves through an accrued effort of years, and neither give up easily.

Helen (Carol Pendergrast) fulfills a lifelong dream to go to Italy and in spite of booking a first-class trip, she is determined not to spend one lira more than she feels she ought to—a topic she is most vocal about. Her poor taxi driver (Juan Fernandez) has an extra charge for putting up with people like her. Fernandez delivers his entire performance in Italian, but still makes it completely comprehensible to the audience, which is no small accomplishment. The patience and calm Fernandez musters in the face of Pendergrast’s bitter, accusatory anger is admirable. Helen is a walking, breathing stereotype of the “ugly American on tour.” But Helen isn’t just this difficult on vacation (when, theoretically, she is jet-lagged and sleep deprived). As we soon discover back home at the Residents’ Action Committee of her retirement community, she is still a pill with a small world and small world view.

The Residents’ Action Committee is a marvelous parody of assorted stereotypes that bog down any forward movement. Fernandez as the self-important retired businessman who is impressed with the sound of his own voice is a delight. Charlotte Hackman’s stickler for the minutiae of parliamentary order, at the expense of anyone actually accomplishing anything, is all too familiar in real life. Again, I kept watching their interactions and praying I won’t be destined to spend my twilight years trapped in gamesmanship with geriatric playmates—because this is the only way to fill their days.

Just when I thought the message of the evening couldn’t get more horrifying, we wandered into the world of online dating for seniors. Rose (Marie Chonko) has finally admitted her husband no longer knows who she is—and he is fine in a nursing home. With the few years she has left, she is going to enjoy herself. She enters the world of online dating for the  “Senior Set.” Young people can adapt and change, but by 70-plus a person is pretty set in her ways, with some very hard edges to personality development. When two people come up against those edges, it can be amusing to watch the clash but also painful for those involved to unbend and try to accommodate. One also hopes to have learned a thing or two in more than half a century, as Rose demonstrates, when she unmasks her first online date as a man with a woman at home who takes care of him while he is out looking for greener pastures. Thus, would-be philander, Charley (Ken Campbell), is tough to like. He’s got a loving companion at, who he willingly and clearly deceives, but he is charming when he wants to be.

The script is almost an illustration of Social Darwinism: As the available pool of  possible sex partners die off or become incapacitated, what are the restrictions and prohibitions for the last ones standing?

Fried captures the world of ageing with a smile and chuckle, but it is joking on the straight because he captures it so accurately. His audience is primarily of the same age, so laughing at their own foibles resonates. However, for those of us looking at the future, it is a nightmare-like prophecy of things to come.

But Chef Denise Gordon comforts on this wintery night, beginning with a creamy potatoes and vegetable soup. The dill seasoning on the croutons makes the savory soup pop somehow. Then arrive the largest twice-baked potatoes ever. Stuffed with shrimp, onions and cheese as far as the eye can see, it is a wonder of architecture. She also offers pierogi, which have sustained eastern Europeans through hundreds of years of cold nights and cuddles. My favorite of the evening is the rice and quinoa, with an assortment of roasted winter vegetables. Gordon tops the whole experience with a mild curry yogurt sauce that sums up “delectable.”

The course of true love never has run smooth, and Fried captures such beautifully with wit, joy and a little bit of terror. It is part and parcel of new experiences. The script is funny, the performances are spot on, and the food is mouth-watering.

Senior Moments
Jan. 26-Feb. 17, 6:30 p.m.; Sunday matinee on Feb. 11 and 18, 3 p.m.
Special dinner show Wed., Feb. 14
TheatreNOW • 19 S. 10th St.
Tickets: $18-$42 (latter includes three-course meal; $52 for Valentine’s Day performance)

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