Playwright Ernest Thompson revisited his Broadway play The West Side Waltz for the Theatricum Botanicum’s 2022 summer season. The original Broadway production debuted in 1981, starring Katherine Hepburn. The fresh rewrite stars the timeless, nuanced Ellen Geer as widowed and isolated pianist Margaret Mary Elderdice. Her co-stars are Melora Marshall as Cara Varnum, a violinist who is Margaret’s one friend, and Willow Geer as aspiring actress Robin Bird. This deconstructed 21st century version of the play is directed by Mary Jo DuPrey with straight-out-of-the-80s costumes designed by Beth Eslick. Ample humor and poignancy bring focus to each characters’ challenges.
The play sweeps the viewer into a New York City apartment scene where rent is high, the heat doesn’t always work properly and the specter of rats threatens one resident in particular. Three women of different eras and backgrounds work out the kinks in their lives and inadvertently give solace to one another. The set, dialogue, and acting are so compelling one is transported to the 1980s, when cell phones weren’t attached to hands, and people used dictionaries and spoke in complete sentences.
The intersection of different generations, the idiosyncrasies of each character and the inherent reality of intrusion into privacy that comes with living in a NYC apartment make for ripe comedy. The superintendent of the building, Serge America, an educated immigrant, played by Miguel Perez (with an outstanding performance by understudy A. M. Sannazzaro on July 2) charms the women and broadens the perspective and humor, but The West Side Waltz also leans into painful emotions regarding loneliness, failure and loss. Through the arc of the characters the audience is reminded that we can find comfort in the company of others, as imperfect as that company might be.
In the program’s Director’s Notes, Mary Jo DuPrey writes: “But now that we’ve all learned how isolation can impair the soul, the play deepens our awareness on how vital it is to release the barriers and defenses that we may have developed from the natural wounds of life to reach out and, sometimes, find family and love wherever we find ourselves in life.” The West Side Waltz runs through September 23 at Topanga’s Theatricum Botanicum. Tickets are available through theatricum.com