“Jalopies” now playing at the Annex Theatre, is the story of nine retirement home residents in Seattle as they struggle with issues of old age and the ruthless but swarmy new manager. All ten parts are played expertly by the same actor, Mark Cherniack.
This play does not fall into the trap that many movies and plays do, of portraying the elderly as one dimensional eccentric characters. All the foibles and eccentricies were there but the deep emotions, fears and character delineation was also present in a very loving touching fashion. There was also plenty of comic relief to eleviate the tragedy of old age and dying.
Each of the characters expresses the various dilemmas’ of the elderly. Peter and Esther have been married for 65 years and are about to be separated because Peter is deteriorating more rapidly than Esther. Confined to a wheel chair and all but a paraplegic, Sylvia at 55 has been abandoned by her husband who does not want to look after a cripple, and has adopted a cynical, negative outlook on life in order to distance herself from the other residents. Hank, a former running champion and his “walking” buddy are separated when Maurice is sent to a nursing home. Esther and Sylvia, who are polar opposites and seem to detest each other, eventually bond and it is Sylvia the suicidal cynic who helps Esther, the touchy feeling positive type, out of her depression after Esther’s husband dies. In many ways the play reminded me of concentration camp literature, with the inmates keeping up their humanity in the face of the fear of death by simple human gestures of love and support.
The efforts of the truly sleezy new manager, to throw out all the “jalopies” -the residents who were truly infirmed, to make way for newer, more presentable, younger and richer tenants, gave the play a loose plot and enough dramatic structure to keep the audience engaged. There were some truly great moments when the residents try to fight against the ruthless management.
Mark Cherniack’s performance as all the characters was outstanding. He changed vocally, physically and linguistically for each of them. The only flaw in his otherwise perfect performance was that Maurice, the Frenchman, spoke in an impeccable German not French one. The writing was very poetic with some extremely interesting and amusing imagery, and the play was just long enough, only one hour.
JALOPIES by Mark Cherniack, Annex Theatre. 1100 East Pike St. Pike/Pine, Seattle. Nov 25-Dec. 10 Fri & Sat 7:30, Sun 2:30. Tickets: www.annextheatre.org $10.