Joel Bryant. Teri Bibb and William Fair
Jack Lyons Theatre and Movie Critic

Playwright A.R. Gurney examines life’s missed opportunities and second chances squanderd when it comes to the game of love and loss for players of a certain age in his 1993 bittersweet, comedy play “Later Life” that opened last Friday at CV Rep Theatre in Rancho Mirage, CA.

Gurney, one of the most prolific playwrights and writers of the 20th century – more than forty-five plays, four novels, and two screenplays –  can still entertain and please an audience with his sophisticated,  ‘old school, East Coast style’ of biting wit, that imbue many of his plays.  “Love Letters”, written in 1988, is one of his most compelling, poignant and popular plays, is still a favorite with regional and community theatres.  Gurney is considered the master when it comes to the skewering of the WASP culture of snobbishness, stuffiness, privilege and New England elitism.

“Later Life” is the final production in CV Rep Theatre’s 2016/2017 season of plays that follows   the Equity Theatre’s 2017 theme of presenting plays that are about “Love, Marriage and Life Changing Events”.  Next season Artistic director Ron Celona will present his audiences with a new theme, which will be announced later this year.

The production, nicely helmed by guest director Luke Yankee, features four highly talented performers, who know their way around sophisticated, funny and poignant comedy plays and moments when they find themselves on stage in one. Gurney’s story revolves around the meeting of two people who only met once thirty years ago.  Austin (William Fair), does not remember meeting Ruth (Barbara Niles) when he was a young Naval Officer attending a party.  Ruth, on the other hand, vividly remembers the encounter which she thought had a promising future.

Austin has spent his entire life convinced that something terrible is bound to happen to him – and he’s still waiting for it to happen.  One night, at a party, overlooking Boston harbor, Austin meets Ruth at a party arranged by friends in the hope that the two might reconnect.  Austin’s personal baggage now includes being a divorced man, along with a medical history that sports a therapist and pills to ease his depression and withdrawal from life’s speed bumps.  Ruth, on the other hand, has managed to shed three husbands over the years.  Both are flawed and wounded souls.

Their mutual friends look to Austin as Ruth’s last chance at a semblance of normalcy. The trouble is that Austin is a Freudian delight in his own right.  He’s introverted and rife with more personal tics and mannerisms than a clock. Besides, arranged meetings by well-intentioned friends rarely end up as “made in heaven” pairings.  But hope springs eternal.

In addition to the tall and handsome Mr. Fair and the beautiful Ms. Niles, this fun romp is also blessed with gifted actors Teri Bibb and Joel Bryant who play multiple characters as party guests. Bryant as one character, forced me to check my program to see who this fifth actor was in this four actor cast. These potential scene-stealing actors deliver many nuanced comedy moments.  Ms. Bibb is on the nose with her distinct Bryn Mawr-accented delivery so reminiscent of Kathryn Hepburn. Also, Mr. Bryant along with Ms. Bibb shine as a bickering New York husband and wife, among other poignant and comedic vignette gems: like a married Southern couple with home-spun wisdom and humor trying to convince Austin and Ruth that conjugal life is a ball.  There was a lot resonance and laughs taking place in the audience on opening night.

It’s amazing how the performing talent plus the artistry of the creative team led by director Yankee, grabs the audience and makes the on stage magic spring to life.  The stunning set design by resident award-winning design wizard Jimmy Cuomo, dishes up one of his best designs with a large, sparkling recessed terraced interior room, with a view of Boston’s famous harbor that is cleverly lighted by award-winning lighting designer and Technical Director Moira Wilke Whitaker.

The gorgeous eye-popping gowns and costumes created by Aalsa L. Lee, and Hair, and makeup designed by Lynda Shaeps and Selene Rodriguez, is the icing on this splendid visual cake of a comedy production. The Sound design by Terence Davis, complete with harbor boat horns and background cocktail party noise, is nicely woven into the play’s narrative moments lending the production its overall verisimilitude of Boston at night.

“Later Life”, is an enjoyable evening in the theatre that will bring audiences back for CV Rep’s ninth season beginning in the Fall.  The production is performed without an intermission (approximately 85 minutes) and runs through May 21st.  For reservations call the box office at 760-296-2966. Be sure to catch a performance, you won’t be disappointed.

All Photos by Jim Cox