Another Cocktail, Dear?

Written by Sallie Manassah

Directed by Juergen Tossmann

Reviewed by Cristina Martin

Entire contents copyright © 2013 Cristina Martin. All rights reserved.

Just what makes life worth living? And who’s to decide when it isn’t, anymore?

New playwright Sallie Manassah addresses these difficult questions with bravery and wit in Another Cocktail Dear?, currently in production by Bunbury Theatre Company at the Henry Clay. A story of five female friends facing their twilight years, the play is well worth seeing whatever your age or gender. The talented cast keeps the laughs coming, all the while challenging the audience to face the realities of aging that are more or less imminent for us all. In her program notes, Manassah expresses the hope that the show will “…make people think.” Indeed it does.

Annie (Ann Marie Alexander), Marilyn (Carol Tyree Williams), Sandy (Alice Chiles), Diane (Ann Meyer) and Janet (Tiffany Smith) meet for two hours on the second Tuesday of each month at 3 p.m. to talk, play cards and enjoy cocktails together. As the play opens, we meet them one by one in the present day — all similar in broad outline (60-ish, female, white, heterosexual, upper-middle class), but each with her own particularities which make for a colorful ensemble. Annie, recently back from Cape Cod and a visit with the grandchildren, hosts everyone in a common room of her housing complex. High-powered realtor Marilyn bustles in, talking about her job and how she enjoys risk; outdoors-woman Sandy shares stories of her hiking adventures; Diane, newly back from Paris, regales everyone with stories of the outfits she has created in the style of her favorite designer, Chanel; and artsy Janet shows up late, as usual, explaining that she has just come from the ordeal of changing her granddaughter’s diaper.

Janet is grieving the recent loss of her 94-year-old mother, who, after having been in fairly good shape for her age for quite some time, one day “fell in the kitchen and was gone.” Conversation turns to the experience of getting older, with some good quips as the ladies express their reaction to what they see when they look in the mirror lately. Marilyn says she never imagined that as she got older she was going to have to pay for sex, between what she spends for her husband’s Viagra and her own hormone replacement therapy! They comment that they’re the first generation of women to “have it all,” but they’re also the “Club Sandwich Generation,” looking after aging parents while also helping their children look after their own children. As they bond and vent, it’s clear that these friendships go way back and are responsible for sustaining these women through it all.

Imagining what’s in store in years to come, the friends are sobered (despite the freely flowing cocktails) by the thought of memory loss, loss of sense of self, and loss of one another. They make a plan to live together once they can no longer live unassisted. And because “friends don’t let friends suffer the long goodbye,” they devise a daring and controversial solution to the most troubling of end-of-life issues.

Bob Bush has designed a clean, serviceable set in neutral tones that gives the actors a variety of options for groupings and movement. The women gather around a round table to play cards, but good use is made of a bar upstage and of two other seats stage-left as well. One puzzling element is Marilyn’s insistence, several times in Act 1, upon everyone at the card party getting up and switching seats. Was this written into the script, and do people actually do this? It’s one way of providing some visual variety, but it seems a little forced. Other elements of stage business, however, such as Janet’s watching her friends from behind the bar or off to the side, and Marilyn’s pulling up a chair to sit near and help her at poker when Janet is at the table, are subtle and artful. Rather than putting the actors on a platform or using a carpet, this production cleverly delineates the space where the action is to take place by painting a rectangular area of the stage floor a pale sage color.

All five characters are excellently cast and skillfully played. Tiffany Smith deserves particular kudos as the youngest actor of the group, who transforms herself so thoroughly via her voice and movement that I would have sworn she was at least 30 years older than she actually is. Just a little more makeup on her hands and upper arms (the hands always give you away!!) would make the illusion complete. The play’s pacing is generally very good. Only on the rarest of occasions does the dialogue hint at losing momentum, and no sooner does the impression form than it’s swept away by an energetically delivered line.

Between Acts 1 and 2, the five friends age 30 years, and the transformations are extraordinary. Director Juergen Tossmann has worked meticulously with each actor with regard to posture, movement and gesture to make them completely believable as 90+ year olds – specifically, as 90+ -year-old versions of the 60+ -year-olds we met in the first act. Annie tells us in Act 1 that “finding your sense of style and sticking with it is the essence of aging well.” Ingeniously, Thomas Leigh’s costumes for each woman in Act 2 echo their respective outfits in Act 1 via subtle preferences for print, color, cut or accessories. A more open set in Act 2 allows the actors to maneuver around via walkers and wheelchairs. Along with what seemed to be cooler lighting chosen by Lighting Designer Steve Woodring in the second act as opposed to the first, the greater openness creates a sense that life grows emptier and more sparsely populated with friends as we advance in age.

Two additional characters, a nurse (Kim Guenthner) and a detective (Mike Burmester), join the original characters at the assisted living facility where they all end up in Act 2. Both actors deliver sound performances in their supporting roles.

My only source of dismay with regard to Another Cocktail, Dear?was the printed program, otherwise very professional looking but containing more misspellings and typographical errors than it really should. To begin with, is there a comma in the play’s title or not? It seems to call for one, but it appears variously. Nitpicking aside, I was rather surprised by the note appearing at the bottom of the page that lists contributors to Bunbury Theatre Company: “We apologize if your name is missing from this list, or misspelled. Please let us know and we will make the appropriate correction.” Shouldn’t the spelling (especially of people’s names… especiallyof the names of CONTRIBUTORS) have been checked and double-checked before the program went to press?? Unfortunately, Chris Driesbach’s (sp?) name appears one way in this list but is spelled differently on the following page. Poor Kim Guenthner is U-E in one spot but E-U in another (a plight with which I imagine Producing Artistic Director Juergen Tossmann might sympathize). Carol Tyree Williams “…has performed in the Louisville, Indiana area for over 30 years” according to her bio, as well as with Music Theatre LouisVILLE (horrors!), and Ainsley Peace (Lights, Sound) is apparently not on the same page as anyone else either literally or figuratively, as her bio informs us that she “…is happy to be back at Bunbury for LOVE LETTERS.” Poor Costume Designer Thomas Leigh doesn’t even get a bio. I truly don’t mean to be snide. It’s just that a little closer attention to detail would go a long way toward creating the polished image that any theatre would prefer and that all those associated with Bunbury deserve.

In general, however, this show is another fine production by a fine Louisville theatre company. Sallie Manassah says that she wrote the play reluctantly, never before having tried her hand at writing for the stage. But I do hope she is encouraged by her success to perhaps write more. Cheers to her and to all involved in bringing Another Cocktail, Dear? to fruition.

Another Cocktail, Dear?

April 12-28, 2013

Bunbury Theatre Company

at The Henry Clay Theatre

604 S. Third St.

Louisville, KY 40202

(502) 585-5306