Bette Davis once said, "Old age ain't no place for sissies." In Pacific Alliance Stage Company's season-opening show, Conversations with Our Elders—part of the ongoing county-wide Performance Sonoma festival—Davis' statement is aptly illustrated by the true-life stories of over a dozen Sonoma County senior citizens. PASCO's artistic director, Hector Correa, having amassed over 20 hours of taped interviews with local folks over the age of 70, has created a lovely performance piece that honors the lives and hard-earned wisdom of a demographic that is often overlooked and underappreciated. An oft-dropped truism within theater circles is that what audiences most want to see onstage are characters who remind them of themselves. What Correa and his cast of five actors have done with Conversations is to build a show that does exactly that.
A bare staged reading finds the actors—Gene Abravaya, Alexandra Matthew, Shannon Veon Kase, Phoebe Moyer and Norman A. Hall—seated in a row, taking turns reading and performing the words of the interviewees. They describe their feelings about historically significant moments from the bombing of Hiroshima to the death of JFK, and discuss marriage, divorce, parenthood, the groans of getting old, life after death, the best cure for depression ("Naps!") and even ghostly visitations by deceased pets. This is pure reader's theater, with little to look at beyond some photos floating above the simply lit stage, and the simplicity is effective. The actors do a fine job of establishing many different voices, with Gene Abravaya (recently seen in Sixth Street Playhouse's Beauty and the Beast) a particular standout.
This is a work in progress, with a great deal of power and potential, though some of Correa's choices infect the show with an inconsistent tone, particularly in the way Alexandra Matthew must juggle a mix of thematic narration, quotes by famous and the occasional character. This makes her contributions a bit confusing and sometimes—as when a moving series of stories by the other actors is interrupted by yet another famous quote—distracting and intrusive. On the whole, though, Conversation with Our Elders is a moving and inspiring opportunity to remind ourselves of the people who pave the way for our own lives and adventures, the people we will all one day become.
Conversations with Our Elders runs Thursday&–Sunday through Sept. 30. Thursday at 7:30pm; Friday&–Saturday at 8pm; Sunday at 2:30pm. Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. $17&–$20; Thursday, $15. 707.588.3400.
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