Richard Masur, Alice Playten
The Oldsmobiles, a new play by Roger Rosenblatt, is oddly reminiscent of an overly long Carol Burnett sketch, both in its gentle humor, oddly inappropriate subject matter and immediate forgetfulness. It isn’t a bad play, not really, but it doesn’t put on much of a show either.
Clocking in at a quick hour, the show is about an elderly couple preparing to commit suicide by plunging off the side of the Manhattan Bridge.
They kid each other fondly, express amazement over the people who show up to convince them not to jump, and try to remember why they are there in the first place. By the halfway point of the show, I wanted to push them both into the East River myself.
Richard Masur and Alice Playten, two experienced TV comedy veterans, deliver the gentle laughs as well as can be expected with this material. The reason they are committing suicide, or at least as much reason as we are given, is that the two might have early onset Alzheimer’s disease. It isn’t discussed much, either because it isn’t funny or because there isn’t a good reason for putting the audience through this.
It is a single-set staging; the couple sits on the Manhattan Bridge watching as people gather below them. Occasionally voices yell up to the pair, but the focus is on the two performers. Jim Simpson directs, but there isn’t a lot he can do with this material. The actors milk the lines for all they are worth but there is no underlying motivation for their being there, no hook or revelation, mainly because suicide isn’t an inherently funny subject – it’s a complex, messy and desperate action, not a thing one can easily deal with in a lighthearted way. Rosenblatt seems scared of his own chosen subject.
The staging itself, in a shadow box above the stage, is reasonably imaginative given the limitatiions of Rosenblatt’s play. While not utterly unsalvageable – as aforementioned the performers do their best, winning as many laughs as they can – the play comes close at times and for something that treads on the edge of taboo it sure fades quickly from memory.