Monday, October 6, 2014


By Ruth Ross

In September, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, chief architect of Obamacare, wrote an article in the Atlantic magazine in which he said he did not want to live past the age of 75 because living too long deprives us of all things we value. His thesis is that increases in our length of years has resulted in increases in disability. As he so succinctly put it, “I think this manic desperation to endlessly extend life is misguided and potentially destructive.”

Our 21st century quest for longer lives comes under the dramatic microscope of Richard Dresser in his new dark comedy, 100 Years, now receiving its world premiere at Dreamcatcher Rep in Summit. Along the way, he skewers master-planned communities like Celebration, Florida, developed by The Walt Disney Company (and located near Disneyworld); the impact of genetic engineering on wildlife; and the allure of Florida as a place to regain our lost youth.

Set in the not-too-distant future in a planned community in Florida, the plot of 100 Years revolves around two couples, both of whom have sold everything and relocated in hope of a new start. Joan and Stevie (right) have come after he has lost his job; once he gets on his feet, they will start a family. Helen and Raymond, the very strange couple living in the adjoining unit, have come to transform their lives by going through something never fully explained called the Process. As the four wait to be called for Intake to see whether they will be accepted for the Process, secrets are spilled, violence ensues and disappointment looms.

I am not a fan of futuristic tales, but Dresser uses sarcasm and ridicule to satirize our present-day obsessions, much in the way Jonathan Swift did in A Modest Proposal, wherein he suggested that a burgeoning Irish population could be managed by using their infants for food!

The unnamed community is almost a character in 100 Years. No alcohol is allowed, although residents are required to drink nine foul-tasting shakes a day. Already-prepared meals magically appear in each unit's refrigerator; every beautiful day is boringly the same; and every inhabitant wears the exact same track suit, sneakers and even socks! There doesn't seem to be much to do to keep people involved; they are mandated to be happy in this cold, sterile environment.

Director Laura Ekstrand helms the production without turning it into a cartoon of the future. The five actors deliver the ridiculous dialogue as though it is the most natural speech. This rather deadpan delivery makes their utterances sound (and seem) even more outrageous...and scary. Eli Ganias (top photo) as the passive, reticent Steve is maddening; you want to pinch him to elicit an active response. Even Stacie Lents (above, right), as his effervescent wife Joan, cannot get a rise out of her husband! She's the spunkiest of the quartet; voicing doubts about this life-changing move, she gains our sympathy and our respect for her wanting to support her husband.

As Raymond, John Pietrowski (above, left) is both obnoxious and sympathetic. In the first act, he gets into a physical altercation with Joan, who used to be a bartender and isn't above punching this jackass in the mouth. When, in Act II, his hopes of being taken into the Process are in doubt, Pietrowski shows a more vulnerable side to the man. As his wife Helen, Harriett Trangucci (above, center) is pitch-perfect as a browbeaten spouse, a woman who once held a prestigious job that she gave up to support her man. Julian Gordon (right, center) is delightful as the lollipop-sucking attendant Brett, who comes to fetch Helen and then Raymond with a matter-of-factness that runs directly counter to what could be in store for them. Although we don't really know what that is, it doesn't sound good.

Zach Pizza's set telegraphs the cookie-cutter look of this planned community very well; Jeff Knapp's sound fits the arrival and departure of Brett's vehicle (complete with a bell reminiscent of the ice cream truck of summer). Nicole Callender has choreographed the fight so the violence is convincing. And Laura Ekstrand has outfitted the actors in identical track suits that further communicate the sameness of it all.

All this sounds like a bit of a downer, but Dresser's clever dialogue is quite droll, and there seems to be a ray of hope at the end (no spoilers here). Although we are not too sure what really lies ahead for Helen and Raymond, Joan and Steve seem to settle on a plan to move ahead with their lives—even in a world that seems to be increasingly inhospitable. Kind of like what most folks continue to do, even as Ebola, ISIS and other disasters loom.

100 Years is a play that will make you laugh and think about your place on this planet, in your community, in your family. It is a worthy addition to Richard Dresser's body of work.

100 Years will be performed at the Oakes Center, 120 Morris Ave., Summit, through October 19. For information and tickets, call the box office at 800.838.3006 or visit online.