“It’s no fun getting old.”
This is a familiar sentiment and one that Howard shares with his octogenarian mother-in-law Gladys in playwright Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” currently at The Eventide Theatre Company.
But the heart-wrenching play is about much more than the challenges of getting older — it thoroughly explores how the whole family system is affected by the devastating effects of dementia.
Set in New York City in 1990, loneliness is at the heart of this tender story. A long-time art-gallery owner and colorful extrovert, Gladys loves traveling, helping others in need and throwing parties. At least she did when she was younger — but now she is much more reserved, often living in her own world, oblivious to the chaos around her as her stressed-out family deals with her decline.
The play is told as the memory of Gladys’ grandson, Daniel. Santino Torretti tangibly balances his character’s frustrations with his grandmother’s constant repetition and poor hearing with his desire to show her the love and respect she deserves. Living in the apartment next to hers, he is a constant witness to his grandmother’s trying tale.
Linda Monchik is spectacular in the difficult role of Gladys. She perfectly stays in character, at times seemingly semi-present, while talking over the other actors or interrupting them with repetitive questions. Monchik’s expressions are a window into Gladys’ thoughts and narrowing world as she slowly loses the ability to relate to her surroundings.
Ricky Bourgeois plays the self-absorbed Boston artist of questionable talent. Although he is a stranger off the street, Gladys kindly offers not only to display his work but also to put him up in a small space in the gallery. As a newcomer to the situation, he seems unaware of Gladys’ dementia and blames her confusion on a bad hearing aid.
As Gladys’ daughter Ellen, Cathy Ode embodies the struggles of her character’s need to help her mother maintain her independence as long as possible while at the same time trying not to lose herself in the inevitable and all-consuming caretaking process. Her angst over the trying ordeal is amplified by her obvious physical tension.
Howard is Ellen’s caring husband, portrayed by Nicholas Dorr, who provides comic relief with his dramatic facial expressions as he plays a bit of the fool, trying to bring some levity to the difficult situation.
Director Toby Wilson keeps the two-hour-plus play flowing smoothly while ensuring the mounting tension has some relief valves with humorous touches.
Once again, Eventide’s detailed scenery does not disappoint. Designed by Roland Thane, the flexible set has a large hinged wall which easily converts the stage from stark gallery to a cozy living room with the aid of Greg Hamm’s notable lighting design. Amy Canaday’s many costume changes suggest the passage of time and help to mirror Gladys’ decline with her disheveled appearance towards the end of the drama.
Eventide’s production of “The Waverly Gallery” is a tour de force of emotion that will have you laughing one minute and pulling at your heartstrings the next.
“The Waverly Gallery”
Information and reservations: 508-398-8588