By Ruth Ross
You may recall that, some years ago, United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor retired from the nation's highest judiciary to care for her husband who was suffering from Alzheimer disease, only to discover that he had fallen in love with a woman he had met in the facility where he was living. That situation appears to have been the inspiration for Laura Brienza's drama, Old Love New Love, now receiving its world premiere at Luna Stage after a five-year development period. While Brienza focuses on the effect the new love has on the old, the play is overwritten, long and diffuse and contains several situations that border on the preposterous. (LEFT: Kim Zimmer and Thom Molyneaux as Gloria and Colin share a tender moment.)
Just as Gloria discovers that Colin, her husband of more than four decades, has fallen for a woman he met in Twin Rivers, a live-in facility for Alzheimer patients, her daughter Michelle's marriage is blindsided by her husband Matt's confessing to a one-night stand. Living together so Gloria can pay for Twin Rivers, the two women commiserate and wallow in the despair of having been abandoned for a "new love." Gloria decides to care for Colin at home, along with his nurse Mia, whom they have hired to help. And when Gloria meets Danny, the husband of Colin's inamorata Lane, the two connect over their shared situation, leading to Danny's request that Lane be permitted to join Colin in Michelle's already crowded home, so she can die peacefully after suffering a stroke.
Along the way, there is another strange coincidence (no spoiler) and the ending doesn't really resolve much. Too, the play suffers from a surfeit of scene changes, from Michelle's living room to a patio at Twin Rivers. In fact, I was awaiting another scene when I realized that the play had ended, as signaled by the lights going down!
Director Nancy Robillard needs a steadier hand on the action so it moves along more quickly; the play clocked in at over two hours, and I found myself looking at my watch several times. Old pros Kim Zimmer (Gloria), Jane Mandel (Lane) and Thom Molyneaux (Colin) are outshone by a terrific Clare McClanahan as Michelle in a sympathetic portrayal of a young wife and mother who feels abandoned by her husband—for a younger Pilates instructor!—a situation felt even more keenly because she is a breast cancer survivor. Whatever happened to "in sickness and in health?" she asks Matt in a scene that is heartbreaking in its rawness. (ABOVE L-R: Jane Mandel, Alred Gingold, Kim Zimmer, Thom Molyneaux, Christopher Halladay, Claire McClanahan and Ava Eisenson react to Colin’s choking during dinner.)
Kim Zimmer's Gloria is equally as bewildered as her daughter over her plight, but she takes matters into her own hands and decides to bring Colin home, which may not have been a good move considering that in the second act she appears to be injured. Zimmer ably conveys her character's anguish at having been pushed aside in her husband's affections, never mind that he is not in his right mind. At times, however, her histrionics become tiresome, perhaps the fault of the playwright, not the actress.
In contrast, the wooden delivery of Alfred Gingold as Danny conveys a rather detached, even accepting, view of his wife's romance with another man. However, a scene where he plays a game with Gloria was relaxed and natural, and provides a hint to a possible way to deal with what is a sad situation. As the third husband in the play, Michelle's husband Matt, Christopher Halladay's sad feelings of not having fulfilled his dreams make him more sympathetic than an adulterer should be, so that we kind of root for him to reconcile with his wife.
The loving couple, Colin and Lane, are played by two veterans of Luna Stage: Thom Molyneaux and Jane Mandel, respectively. Neither has much to do except look confused and disoriented, although Mandel gets to emote in a heated exchange with a visiting Michelle that results in a stroke. And Ava Eisenson's Mia, the nurse from the facility who comes to care for Colin, is a sanctimonious character who feels blessed to help these people on their journey. She is an odious character, one that I assume the actor could not do much with.
Libby Stadstad's set presents a living/dining room as messy as the events that unfold on it; Conor Mulligan's lighting design directs our attention to the multitude of scene changes.
Luna Stage is known for producing new plays, some of which they have developed from the reading process. This is a brave move for a small company, for it means an investment of time, talent and financial resources. Indeed, Luna Stage turned to social media to fund this production. Of course, there is a risk, one evident in Old Love New Love. The script could use some tightening up, and the directing needs to be tauter. While the fallout of such a situation is interesting, the way the play deals with it is a bit far-fetched and unrealistic—which doesn't make such a state of affairs unworthy of dramatization. Luna Stage deserves applause for taking a risk to bring these circumstances to our attention.
Old Love New Love will be performed through May 8 at Luna Stage, 555 Valley Road, West Orange. For performance times and tickets, call the box office at 973.395.5551 or visit online at www.Lunastage.org.