LOVE COMES TO ALL AGES IN "SOUTHERN COMFORTS"
by Chuck Graham
If you think the dating game is complicated for young people, consider the dimensions of effort required to maneuver around decades of past experience -- plus respecting the feelings of grandchildren as well as children, maybe stepchildren, and all the other baggage of life while falling in love at age 72 or older. Even if both members of this new coupling have only had one husband or wife before, expectations can get pretty tangled.
That's the premise of "Southern Comforts" by Kathleen Clark, just opened at Invisible Theatre. This gentle romantic comedy tweaks the emotions in unexpected directions as two strangers deep into their senior years meet sweetly over a televised baseball game. She stops by his northern New Jersey home to ask for a contribution to charity. He's watching baseball. She loves baseball.
Determined not to seem interested in each other, but wanted to know more about each other, they are wary to begin that euphoric slide into cohabitation. So their mating dance has a different pace. The sexual revolution may have changed the rules of the game for those just starting out in life, but fidelity often has a heavier consequence for people in their seventies.
Tucson favorites Maedell Dixon and Douglas Mitchell play the roles of Amanda and Gus -- people raised to be responsible and reliable in a different generation. Under the direction of Harold Dixon, these two find each other in a totally believable glide though the stages of compatibility to their ultimate destination.
Outgoing Amanda, with genteel southern manners, hides her caution behind graceful conversation. Grumpy Gus, a retired stonemason with flinty features, cuts right through those flowery gestures with his no-nonsense New England attitude. He's all about being practical. His romantic side has been left withering for decades.
Yet, Amanda sees Gus with his broad shoulders and thick fingers as just the sort of man who could become the steadfast anchor she needs to survive in such a harsh land. Unsentimental Gus compares Amanda to a good cup of coffee. "You keep me awake," he explains earnestly.
Within the context of this play, such compliments draw recognition as well as laughter. Throughout the evening of their banter (there are no other cast members )couples in the audience are always looking at each other, poking each other, nodding in agreement, seeing themselves in the give-and-take of Amanda and Gus.
Considering the number of second and third marriages being consummated these days, a lot of traditional expectations have pretty much gone out the window. Traditionally, the guy gets to pick the stereo system and the gal gets to pic...basically, everything else. But if both people have similar interests, such as reading, and have accumulated huge libraries of books you can appreciate the difficulty. Even a killer stereo doesn't have the cachet it used to.
"Southern Comforts" has a scene like that. Gus prefers a spare amount of furnishings in his home, he values empty space because a man needs room to move around. Amanda has 12 of those floor-to-ceiling cases full of books. And a big sofa, some chairs, lots of pictures and knick-knacks for the walls. She likes things cozy.
A more touching moment arrives in their conversations about funeral plots and headstones. Gus just assumed he'd be buried next to his first wife. Amanda is horrified. Gus protests because, after all, he already owns the plot. Well, you can see how this kind of discussion can get pretty complicated.
Reassurance is what this play provides, just as its title implies. Love and marriage are always scary at any age, and in our youth-dominated culture there is some resistance to even think about older people enjoying fresh new love at all. But they do, the online stories in Facebook are full of evidence. This play is set in 1996, a digital update could come along any minute.
Performances of "Southern Comforts" by Kathleen Clark continue at Invisible Theatre, 1400 N. First Ave., at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays (no performance Thanksgiving Day), 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, to Nov. 29. Tickets are $22-$25, with group discounts. For details and reservations, 882-9721, or visit www.invisibletheatre.com