No Senior Left Behind

No Senior Left Behind

The story offstage is just as entertaining as the one onstage at Arkansas Public Theatre.

Onstage, a cast of 10 veteran actors — some with a professional background in New York City, some with 30 years invested in APT — find the humor and hope in growing older in a Bronx nursing home intended for “100 percent Jews.”

Offstage, APT is “so incredibly fortunate” to present “Every Day a Visitor” for the first time outside New York. The script, says productions chairman Ed McClure, isn’t even in print.

“A friend of ours, Joan Porter, a New York actress who was in ‘Checks and Balances’ here, was doing this show Off-Broadway,” he relates, “and Kathy and I went to see it, liked it and thought it would be a good fit for APT. Joan hooked us up with the author, Richard Abrons, and he gave us permission to do it. He just sent us the manuscript!”

Kathy McClure is playing the role she saw Porter in, Fanny Levy, and says that underneath that character’s and all the others’ crusty exteriors are “hearts of gold.”

“It’s funny and sad, all at the same time,” she says.

The premise of the play, explains director Joseph Farmer, is that these characters — seven of them residents of a faded care home intended for people of Jewish descent, plus a caregiver, a nurse and a newcomer — are facing a long, boring road to their final exit. All they have to do is play cards — badly; bicker — frequently; and complain — loudly.

Then Figliozzo (played by retired New York actor and APT newcomer Tim Gilster) has a brilliant — if unusual — idea. He will, he announces, from then forward be New York Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. This isn’t Uncle Teddy in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” and Figliozzo isn’t crazy. But he is persuasive enough to get everyone to join him in “the game” — everyone except Stoopak (Jim Brennan), who just stares at the TV or hides in his room. Bob, the ex-cop turned caregiver played by Tom Karounos, appoints Stoopak president, and Stoopak rises to the occasion with a list of rules.

“Rule number one is we got to enjoy,” Stoopak says.

“If rule number one is you gotta enjoy, then rule number two oughta be you gotta be healthy,” adds Feltenstein (played by Ed McClure).

“You’re closer than you think,” agrees Stoopak. “Rule number two is anybody gets sick, he’s not alone. We stay together, we’ll be all right. Anybody goes to the hospital, he gets a visit every day from one of us, and we all know how he does. Nobody dies alone in the hospital. Every day a visitor.”

“And we make sure they know in the hospital they got somebody important,” adds Mrs. Marcus (Terry Vaughan).

It’s that “sense of hope” that Gilster thinks will resonate with audiences. “Everybody approaches older age with such trepidation,” he says. “But here you see these people making the most of every day — and setting each other free by accepting each other.”

“I hope people will laugh, but I also hope it sparks a conversation about age profiling in this country,” says Vaughan, Gilster’s wife, a New York stage veteran and a veteran of the APT production of “Dead Man’s Cell Phone.” And she refers to a scene later in the play:

“That’s the problem,” says Grossman (Kris Isham) then. “People don’t see us as individuals. They just see us as old. We’re not supposed to do anything lively or different. We’re just supposed to be old and wait our turn.”

Farmer thinks every playgoer — younger, older, Jewish or not — will connect with one of the characters. He grew up with “lively, active, fun-loving Missouri” grandparents who came from a similar working class background as the residents of the Schwabacker Home for the Aged.

“Being Jewish doesn’t matter,” he says.

“I told somebody the other day, imagine ‘The Big Chill’ with older Jewish people,” Ed McClure says.

“Abrons, himself now an octogenarian, states he wanted to make old age with ‘all its infirmities and death around the corner funny — really funny,’” Marilyn Lester wrote in Theater Pizzazz. “‘Every Day a Visitor’ may not have you doubling over with laughter … but the play certainly has a lot to say about aging in a slyly humorous and poignant way.”

Categories: Entertainment, Theater