Kudos to playwright Daniel Damiano for creating two lead characters as part of the 60+ populace. Period. End sentence. End paragraph.
Had I nothing more to add, this feat in itself – weaving a story around a couple in the latter part of their lives (far too often ignored in our youth-crazed popular culture) – is reason enough for praise. The fact that Joe and Jean, the 40-year-married protagonists of Damiano’s lovely, very moving new play, The Golden Year, are fully realized, multilayered people who still have passions, desires, pride, giddy playfulness, vibrant sexuality and true love and affection for one another -- yes, even after 40+ years together – is reason for celebration.
Both recently retired, one by choice, one not, Jean is initially bored while husband Joe is satisfied – no, make that thrilled – to sit in his lounge chair and watch his TV…at least until he is ready to travel the globe. It isn’t long before Jean, piloting her life into new territory, decides to fulfil a long forgotten dream of acting on the stage, and she auditions for a local community theatre. Doing so terrifies her, she shares with girlish delight, which is why she needs to do it. Though her “audition” for the unseen director is hilariously of amateur quality, said director (later played in a charming cameo by the very funny and spot-on Joseph Franchini) sees Jean’s potential, and to everyone’s delight – including my own – Jean is cast in the play!
As Jean moves forward with her newly found hobby, assisted by her devoted husband in line memorization and encouragement, we see more and more of the flaws in their house (and therefore the cracks in their lives) as bit by bit, we see their plans of world travel and adventure begin to crumble as the financial realities, realities touching very close to home and echoing far too many news reports of the last several years, attempt to crush their dreams. Heartwarming and full of drama and humor, the piece is a wonderful showcase for the two lead actors.
The roles are so rich, in fact, that I can imagine actors “of a certain age” clamoring to play these parts – perhaps on Broadway or in a film adaptation. Yet I can’t picture more apt actors for these roles than Ellen Barry and Gerry Goodstein, as Jean and Joe, respectively. Goodstein is solid as the newly retired hubby, initially content and looking forward to what the future brings: outwardly full of joy, inwardly filled with ever-increasing anxiety. He is at turn a child, a father, a lover, a caretaker…filling Damiano’s character as written with nuance and deep-rooted humanity. Barry is simply stellar. Turning her warm and smiling headshot around, her resume is exactly what I expected… She has played dozens of the great women of both classic and modern theatre: the works of Albee, Williams, Chekhov, Shaw, Shakespeare…. The list goes on and on. And such experience shows in her work as much as full life histories show in both Jean and Joe.
Kathy Gail MacGowan’s direction is skilled and razor-sharp, uniting the dynamic text with excellent actors and effective design elements: lighting by Kia Rogers, sound by Julian Evans and especially the simple, evocative set by Will Lowry. MacGowan keeps the pace fast when it should be fast, tender when it should be tender, and filled with many moments of surprise and unexpected glee.
All that glitters may not be gold, and the golden years may not be everything the married couple had hoped for, but they are together through it all – and indeed, this Golden Year shimmers as brightly as any work I have seen off-off-Broadway this season.