STAGE REVIEWS : CAST RISES ABOVE SCRIPT IN ‘LAST OF THE CLASS’
A solid cast consistently rises above mediocre material in “Last of the Class” at the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse, making the most--which isn’t much--of this slender comedy based on two senior citizens’ adventures in the Big Apple. Despite the thoughtful direction of Richard Vath, this Fred Carmichael comedy starts out with a shaky premise and proceeds pretty much on one level until its unlikely plot is played out.
Two aging college classmates are summoned to a seedy Manhattan hotel to straighten out the tangled financial affairs of a recently deceased college chum. Over the course of two days, they discover some startling news about their dead pal’s line of trade, encounter the wacky inhabitants of the hotel, take on the Mafia and confront their own loneliness.
Carmichael’s script is riddled with “old geezer” jokes, repetitious slams at old age that are mostly concerned with parts of the body that no longer function as efficiently as they once did. Although some of the humor is good-natured and genially self-directed, it often addresses the very real problems senior citizens face with surprisingly little sensitivity, seesawing between acknowledging the plight of the elderly and laughing at their expense. It makes for an uncomfortable mix.
Cast members work to create sympathetic characters, and they generally succeed. Bill Erwin and Albert Schoenberg play well off each other as the senior citizens struggling to admit their loneliness.
Two of the supporting players nicely flesh out what could be caricatures: As the innocent newcomer to New York, Rebecca Forstadt sports a squeaky voice and wide-eyed naivete that are immediately captivating; and the Ivy League striptease artist, played by Connie Hair, sheds her Bronx accent as effortlessly as her skimpy costume when she goes out on auditions as a “serious” actress. Jack Degelia finds freshness in his characterization of the hustling bellhop, and Clark Burson makes the most of his role as a bumbling gangster.
“Last of the Class,” making its West Coast premiere, will play through June 8 at the Harlequin Dinner Playhouse, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. For information, call (714) 979-5511.