As the Village Playhouse prepares to take a ride on the nauseating roller coaster that is trying to find a new performance space in Charleston, how fitting that they present a play about picking up stakes and moving on. And like a good real estate agent, what works in The Sunset Years are the flashy smiles and the illusion of home.
Director Keely Enright guides this world premiere script by Judy Heath and Thomas Burke Heath through trips and triumphs, big laughs and rough patches. The story of the Thompsons (Nat Jones and Samille Basler) trying to sell their home behind the backs of their three clingy adult children (Noah Smith, Becca Anderson, and Brad Leon) is hokey when it gets sentimental, but burns with living fire when it stays raw and natural. Jones and Basler are great as the Thompsons; their relationship is loving, genuine, and a joy to watch — the mark of talented actors.
While the children are enjoyable, it's Smith who gets the most prime cuts of meat from a large script (the runtime is nearly two and a half hours). Smith plays a gym teacher going through marital troubles who ends up squatting with his parents, laying bare (literally) a man down on his luck who retreats back to the fort. He steals every scene he doesn't share with the true highlight of the night, Samantha Andrews. Her turn here as real estate agent Blossom is only hindered late in the second act by some strange twists that try to provide a full arc but fall flat.
The show suffers from some developmental issues that every new play has to work through. Many of the subplots, particularly the fight between daughter Rosemary (Anderson) and her girlfriend Jo (played by Liz Duren), are unnecessary or ring false. Other moments rest on recycled jokes or premises: charades, career changes, mistaken identity, and, of course, the pot brownie dinner scene (though that one is a keeper here, thanks to Basler).
The crowd was laughing along, which is what you want to see on opening night of a comedy. It's a family story, with some familiar faces and familiar jokes. But maybe that's just what some people want in their sunset years.
Michael Smallwood is a local actor who most recently appeared in PURE Theatre's Race and Superior Doughnuts.