Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
August 8, 2014
“Art is meaningless if it doesn’t make you feel.” So says a character in “Quartet” — and the bittersweet comedy delivers.
A 1984 documentary about Casa Verdi, a home for retired opera singers and musicians — originally funded by the maestro himself — inspired award-winning playwright and screenwriter Ronald Harwood to create a theater piece for four elderly singers in just such a place. Harwood adapted his story for film in 2012.
Now “Quartet,” the play, is at the Old Globe, in a charming and amusing production deftly directed by Richard Seer, aided by an outstanding design team.
The four former singers are certainly characters — eccentric octogenarians, you might say. Cissy, excellently played by Jill Tanner, is a bit dotty, but she always tries to see the best in people. Wilfred always tries to see the breast in people. Roger Forbes is delightful as the smut-minded provocateur. Robert Foxworth is perfect as Reggie, the persnickety, pedantic one who was once, unforgettably, married to Jean. And then, by surprise, Jean appears, the fading diva who’s mortified to find herself in such a place. Broadway veteran Elizabeth Franz expertly captures the fragility behind Jean’s imperiousness.
When the other three beg Jean to join them in the Quartet from “ Rigoletto ” as part of the celebration of Verdi’s birthday, she flat-out refuses. They’d sung it together in their heyday, but Jean feels they’d only embarrass themselves now, and would become a laughingstock. That she will not abide.
The bulk of the protracted play focuses on how the foursome come together, mending old wounds, revealing long-held secrets, leaving the past behind and attempting to move forward and look ahead.
It’s a poignant comedy, sprinkled with serious confrontations and confessions. Senior memory problems make for cheap laughs, but at least there’s no hearing impairment humor. Most impressive is the outstanding ensemble work.
Growing old and feeling irrelevant is no laughing matter. But Harwood brings a lot of heart – and art – to the proceedings.
“Quartet” runs through August 24, in the Old Globe’s White Theatre.
©2014 PAT LAUNER