A JUKEBOX FOR THE ALGONQUIN – Written by Paul Stroili; Directed by Len Matheo.  Produced by Miners Alley Performing Arts Center (1100 Miners Alley, Golden) through April 7.  Tickets available at 303-935-3044 or minersalley.com. 

When you are called upon to write about theatre in Denver, you soon run out of superlatives.  We are having such a good run of excellent shows.  But talk to ANYONE who has seen the current production at Miners Alley and you’ll hear the highest praise about this funny, touching, sarcastic, imaginative, funny (yes, I meant to say that twice) show.  The wonderfully “seasoned” performers in this show have a gift for throwing out a comic comeback or one-liner as if people really talked that way.  Most of us wish we were that quick and clever with a quip. 

As a lively senior myself with one foot in the nursing home, I hope I can find a place as convivial as Placid Acres and a group of comically intelligent folks as the quartet we get to know and love through this script.  Each player brings their own magic to the stage.  Abby Apple Boes does a short bit at the beginning as a daughter checking out the place potentially for her mother but is soon run off by Annie (Edith Weiss) and a decidedly pointed “survey” she administers to all newcomers.  But then Abby comes back as Peg, the new resident who must have the daily routines and how things work explained to her by the ones that have been there longer.  They consist of Annie, who delivers one-liners with a deadpan no-thought-to-it delivery that catches you off guard each time; Dennis, played by Chris Kendall in a wheelchair, whose grouchiness covers a heart of gold and a wicked sense of humor; and Johnny, given life by a sarcastic determined Dwayne Carrington.  Johnny has his daily routine that involves personal habits, doing the daily crossword puzzle, and gathering in the Algonquin Room for talk with his friends.  He knows how important that socialization is and that it’s the little acts of quiet rebellion that keep them all from descending into craziness.  

Abby as Peg is the peacemaker and the shaker who accidentally comes up with their scheme for making money to buy a jukebox for their part of the facility so they can have dances.  Johnny wants to dance with Lena Horn; Dennis wants to dance with Montgomery Cliff. When the group discovers that Peg’s patio has some very interesting plants left behind by the last resident, the men formulate a plan that the ladies – either through Catholic guilt or just plain fear of being caught – resist at first.  And then they don’t!  And then the fun starts. 

I have to say just a few more words about Edith Weiss as an actress.  She is so innocently funny with perfect timing that she makes you smile just watching her walk around the room.  Every move, every line seems so uncalculated and derive from her own sense of whimsy that you forget that she was ever involved in rehearsals.  She projects ditzy just by the way she looks at someone. I’m sure if it were her choice, she would be working constantly in play after play.  So, it must be her decision to only work when she has a worthy project. Use the occasion of this production to fall in love all over again with her. 

The cast is rounded out with Arlene Hicks as Josefina, the harried director of the facility in which they are housed; John Hauser with a decidedly Elvis-look to his demeanor as the handy man and friend to this group; and Paul Stroili as Chuck, the new custodian who is part of a rehabilitation program for ex-cons.  He has an interesting history that slowly reveals itself as he gets into the rhythm of the place and people.  All three enter into the humor of the situation yet remain appropriately a little separate from the residents.  But their individual stories also become part of the big picture of life at Placid Acres. 

I can’t tell you how much you fall in love with these feisty ol’ folk and enjoy the camaraderie they share with each other.  All of us wish for friends like this.  All of us – especially those who attend the theatre during matinees – hope that we have the companionship of people like this when our time comes for slowing down.  It’s heartening to see them controlling their own environment and creating a place that’s theirs and theirs alone.   

The Algonquin Room created by Scenic Designer Jonathan Scott-McKean and his crew is appropriately stark, yet hospital friendly.  The devise of an invisible fish tank is carried off well and creates funny differences in how each of the residents “feed” the fish.  Vance McKenzie’s lighting design creates a black-out that also creates chaos for the residents.  John Hauser’s sound design introduces the music they all long for.  The costumes by Crystal McKenzie are comfortable and casual – just what you would wear when no one cared much what you wore. 

If I were as good a writer as these people are actors, you would all be reaching for the phone to call for tickets.  EVERYONE I’ve talked to in the last two weeks since the show opened has raved about how delightful the whole experience was and how touchingly funny the characters carried off their parts and the brilliant words of the script.  We all enjoyed the added charm of having the playwright himself in the cast and I KNOW he must be pleased with what Miners Alley has done with his new script.   

The message you walk away with is that your quality of life is what you make it.  You can either enjoy your last years or live in sadness for the time gone by. This one is a true NOT-TO-BE-MISSED. 

A WOW factor of 9.25!! 

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