By Thomas Tracy
The Heights Players is finally feeling its age with its production of Noel Coward’s light-hearted comedy “Waiting in the Wings” — but the plucky Willow Place troupe has never been more charming.
With the exception of a few miscues and a botched line or two, the community theater group masterfully breathes new life to Coward’s team of tarnished golden girls bravely facing the sundown of their lives in a charity home for retired actresses with a sly smile on their lips and a song in their hearts.
“Waiting in the Wings,” Coward’s 50th play, was a critical flop and considered too old fashioned for contemporary audiences when it premiered in Ireland back in 1960.
Yet today, as baby boomers begin retiring, the doddering old ladies are again relevant as they reminisce about past conquests and gossip about the latest addition to their ever-so humble home.
As the play opens, Lotta Bainbridge (Susan Faye Groberg, above left) is the newest old kid on the block. Once the toast of Tinseltown, she’s now too old to act, too poor to live on her own and fears her impending final death scene at the Wings.
As it turns out, moving into a charity home for septuagenarian starlets can be pretty off-putting. Everyone — and I mean everyone — can drop a Shakespearian soliloquy or a Vaudeville song and dance number at the drop of a hat.
Yet things get far worse when Lotta finds out that May Davenport (Valerie O’Hara, above right) is also a resident — and still hates her for stealing her boyfriend some 30 years earlier.
Much like a classic sports car, “Waiting in the Wings” needs a little time to warm up before it gets going.
But once it does, the laughs don’t stop — thanks mostly to actress Margaret Sullivan, who brings out all of Coward’s funniest one-liners with a biting Irish brogue in her role as Deidre O’Malley. Other standout performances include Bill Wood’s Osgood Meeker, a lovesick movie fan who makes a daily pilgrimage to the Wings to visit one of its bedridden residents, and Elizabeth Bove’s Miss Archie, the former drill sergeant who runs the whole place with military precision.
Each cast member brings a sliver of sweet sentimentality to “Waiting in the Wings,” even though it quickly becomes clear that some are stronger actors and more comfortable on stage.
Whatever minor weaknesses it has, the cast operates very well as a family unit, making the lighter moments around the piano — the centerpiece of the stage — a joy to watch.
“Waiting in the Wings” was a perfect choice for the Heights Players as it reaches the end of its 55th season. The theater group, much like the play’s characters, is old, but far from done.
“Waiting in the Wings” at the Heights Players [26 Willow Pl. between State and Joralemon streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 237-2752], through April 17; Fridays–Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 2 pm. Tickets $15. For info, visit www.heightsplayers.org.
Photo by Harry Marc Hermann