A comedy about two senior citizens who fall in love after losing their longtime spouses might seem like a natural production for a Sarasota theater—especially when the story is inspired by a real-life couple living here part-time and the playwright (Janece Shaffer) takes the time to reset the piece right here, too, as is the case with the Asolo Repertory Theatre’s Managing Maxine.
The settings are certainly familiar, all right, from the golf course to the Hob Nob drive-in restaurant to the Whole Foods market. The characters are familiar, too—perhaps too familiar.
The main duo here consists of Maxine (Sharon Spelman, welcome back onstage after a hiatus from the Asolo Rep), a frank-speaking writer with a zest for life, who refuses to think 70 is too late for love; and Arthur (Granville Van Dusen), a seemingly more conservative, serious-minded judge who’s still getting over the recent loss of his wife. When Maxine invites him to her place for dinner, it sets off a predictable chain of events involving grown children not sure they’re ready for their parents to move on and meddling friends who find Maxine and Arthur’s lives more interesting than their own.
Sharon Spelman and Granville Van Dusen in Managing Maxine.
There is some charm initially in watching these two take their first tentative steps into the “dating” world after many years. And Spelman and Van Dusen (who’ve been real-life friends for years) are a couple of pros whose enjoyment in playing off each other occasionally translates into enjoyment for us, too.
But the play, which has a sitcom feel to it from the outset, quickly degenerates into predictable gags about old people having sex. You don’t have to be any kind of prude to be made uncomfortable by the far from subtle humor.
And the other characters in the play are so stereotypical and one-dimensional there’s just not much the actors can do with them. There’s the daughter (Arthur’s) who’s recently divorced and who can’t stand to see her father apparently forgetting her mother; the daughter (Maxine’s) who’s got problems in her own marriage, including a husband who feels neglected; the golf-playing buddy (Arthur’s) who greedily wants all the gory details of Arthur’s new sex life; and the tennis-playing buddy (Maxine’s) who’s all too happy to be 70 and done with many of life’s expectations.
Add to that the direction by Mark Rucker, which seems so obviously to be steered toward getting the big laugh from each punch line, and you end up feeling hit over the head by a show that feels designed for the small screen at home.
In fairness I must point out, however, that the audience the night I attended frequently laughed uproariously. So Managing Maxine may be one of those shows that’s critic-proof. It continues in rotating rep through April 18. For tickets, call 351-8000 or go to asolo.org.