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Coming to Life

The plight of lonely and mostly forgotten inhabitants of senior residence facilities sounds like an excellent premise for a poignant and hard-hitting drama with a social conscience. June August's noble attempt to fashion such a play is sabotaged by a plethora of contrived plot developments and an unfortunate descent toward a disconcertingly pat denouement. Far from depicting the messy realities of life, August's seriocomedy settles for feel-good cliches.

The news is a bit more felicitous when it comes to director Anne Stramese's astute casting. She has assembled an accomplished ensemble of veteran actors who act their hearts out in valiant attempts to jumpstart the sluggish proceedings. The always engaging Jacque Lynn Colton leads the impressive roster, bringing verve to her heart-rending portrayal of the sardonic Helen, whose flippant barbs suggest a suppressed bitterness toward life. As the wheelchair-confined Louise, Dorothy Constantine conveys a more upfront cynicism, eloquently depicting the heartbreak of a widow who believes her estranged daughter cares only about inheriting the family fortune. Jody Carter masterfully captures the world-weary stoicism of former literature professor Clara, who frequently recites classical literary aphorisms to serve as panaceas for her housemates' litany of woes. Leslie Paxton shines as Vera, who once indulged in an adulterous affair with a young man and still harbors guilt over her husband's subsequent death. Teddy Vincent is convincing and likeable as the blind Janette, a sweet-tempered woman who is still grieving the loss of her beloved twin sister. Felicia Wilson plays the assertive young psychologist who is conducting weekly group discussions with the women to gather data for her college dissertation; she gives a creditable performance despite flubbing a few too many lines at the matinee reviewed.

The meandering narrative proceeds in fits and starts, further marred by Stramese's uneven pacing. A heavy-handed device in Thomas Melek's lighting adds to the monotony: As each character launches into her big dramatic moment, the stage lights dim, with a spotlight coming up on the actor. The lengthy second act includes at least three scenes that feel like climaxes, and the story plods along about 30 minutes longer than necessary. Someone would do the playwright a huge favor by going over the script with a red pencil and doing something to mitigate the hard-to-swallow tidiness of the ending, with its miraculous cures and ailing women suddenly planning jaunts to Spain. If only we lived in a world in which our senior citizens' problems were resolved with the ease depicted in this far-fetched fantasy.

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