LATHAM — You remember that TV commercial promoting education: “The mind is a terrible thing to waste?”
Sometimes you can just say, “The mind is a terrible thing.”
That statement is on display in Laura Brienza’s 2016 “Old Love New Love,” now in a sturdy production at Curtain Call. Over two acts and 15 scenes (more about that shortly), Brienza explores the serious business of Alzheimer’s disease on individuals and the families — and health systems — that take care of them.
While the subject is, of course, no laughing matter, the play is leavened with believable humor, thanks to the drollery of Gloria (Carol Max) and the quirky observations by two patients with Alzheimer’s. And, in its wonderful absurdity, a scene around the dining room table shows us the power of human beings to adapt when life turns out not the way we’d hoped.
Gloria’s husband, Colin (Chris Foster), a successful and popular former music teacher, has recently been put into a facility for dementia patients. While there, he meets another patient, Lane (Kathleen Reilly), a former surgeon, and the two strike up a romance, much to the consternation of Lane’s husband, Danny (Howie Schaffer).
Counseled by Mia, a nurse (Angelique Powell), both Gloria and Danny try to understand the “new love” that threatens the “old love,” but Gloria can’t get over her jealousy and concern for Colin’s physical well-being and brings him back home.
Complicating matters is the love life of Gloria and Colin’s daughter, Michelle (Joanna Palladino-Resnick) and her husband, Matt (Isaac Newberry), which, over the course of the play, develops from old to new love.
The episodic nature of the play imposes a stop-start rhythm that doesn’t feel organic. The set-changing, too, slows the proceedings, and it’s not entirely clear what benefit the opening of the back wall provides for all the effort it takes to do so.
At the top of Act II there’s a plot twist that threatens to send the play in a farcical direction; mercifully, the conflict is quickly abandoned. But it’s difficult to know why the idea didn’t end up on the cutting room floor.
Director Steve Fletcher and his experienced cast generally keep the energy up from scene to scene, and the actors clearly know what’s important in each. Many moments are effective: Foster’s touching depiction of Colin’s desperation to leave; Powell’s portrayal of an upbeat and competent caregiver; a scene between Reilly and Palladino-Resnick as Michelle and Lane take a walk into frustration and grief; Newberry’s subtle handling of Matt’s existential crisis; Schaffer and Max’s lovely conversation as an odd couple enjoying a few beers; and the believable interaction — sarcastic, loving — between mother and daughter that Max and Palladino-Resnick established right from the start and that anchors the rest of the play.
There’s another saying: “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” Someone online quipped, “Apparently God thinks I’m a bad-ass,” which would have been a good line for wise-cracking Gloria.
This play, which Max noted in her interview with The Daily Gazette’s Bill Buell, is one that tackles “the tough stuff here at Curtain Call.
These are timely issues that need to be addressed, and theater is supposed to imitate life so that’s why we do what we do.”