Wilton Playshop's 'Later Life' is a bittersweet look at life's journey

While A. R. Gurney’s Love Letters enjoys a run on Broadway, another of the Connecticut playwright’s works will be brought to life at the Wilton Playshop beginning tomorrow, Nov. 7.

Written in 1993, Later Life is, in the author’s words “a celebration of human possibilities and a sympathetic portrayal of those who will forever remain outside the party, frozen into playing only one part all their lives.”

The play actually takes place on a Boston terrace outside a lively party where Austin, a divorced man in mid-life, meets up with Ruth, a woman he knew as a young man 30 years earlier. The two could not be more dissimilar.

Austin, played by Phil Lorenzo of Milford, has lived his life under the belief something terrible was destined to happen to him, and thus has been unable to move forward in his life. Ruth, on the other hand, has done nothing but take chances, reuniting with Austin as a multiple-divorcée. She is portrayed by Nancy Sinacori of Stamford.

As the two take tentative steps to rekindle their long-ago romance, they are encouraged by a bevy of friends from the party who step out onto the balcony to offer their thoughts and advice.

Overseeing all of this is David Jackins of Norwalk, who returns to Wilton as director of the Playshop’s opening play for its 76th season.

It was not his original choice, said Mr. Jackins, who has performed on the Playshop stage in both The Drowsy Chaperone and Plaza Suite. The Playshop board had picked this season’s lineup, which also includes She Loves Me and Relative Values, and asked Mr. Jackins which he would like to direct.

He picked Later Life, which he said “is about being on a precipice of the next stage of life.”

He was attracted to the play, in part, because both he and the main characters are about the same age, in their mid-50s.

“It’s about looking back and forward — what you might have done differently or could do differently.”

Of the characters, he said, “Austin is very stoic and staid. He defines the word ‘conservative.’”

Ruth represents the other end of the spectrum. “She’s a free spirit, open and receptive but damaged. Both are damaged,” he said.

The characters are at “a place in their life where they not only need to reflect but are assessing and reassessing. Am I going to continue the same path?

“There is an element about embracing change and holding true to your values and belief system,” Mr. Jackins continued.

12 roles, four actors

In writing the play, Mr. Gurney stipulated four actors to play a dozen roles.

“It’s an actor’s dream,” Mr. Jackins said. “As an actor, we’d all love to display that versatility. You need to not only change costume but credibility and character and keep it honest. And our actors are wonderful,” Mr. Jackins said.

Those actors are Ann Alford of Norwalk — who plays hostess Sally, the maternal Marion, the abrasive Nancy, the outgoing Esther, and the dramatic Judith — and Fred Rueck of Patterson, N.Y., who plays the philosophical Jim, the curmudgeonly Roy, the nerdy Duane, the jokester Ted, and the playful Walt.

These characters, Mr. Gurney has written, are “coming and going, interrupting, bickering, explaining, but always committed to living their lives, even as our hesitant hero seems unwilling or unable to change his own.”

“Because Ruth and Austin are so bittersweet, having these other characters who filter in and out is wonderful. They help to notice and realize and adjust. They are wonderfully versatile,” Mr. Jackins said.

They also, the playwright has pointed out, demonstrate that “there is a variety of roles available to all of us in life.”

Two acts

Although the play is intended as one act, Mr. Jackins said, the Playshop’s version will likely be two 45-minute acts with an intermission. The action takes place on a single set — the terrace overlooking Boston Harbor — with the spirited party going on behind French doors. The audience will hear a recording of an actual cocktail party held at the Playshop.

Mr. Jackins is a graduate of the University of Maine and is co-founder of the Crystal Theater in Norwalk. He previously directed A Thousand Clowns at the Westport Country Playhouse and is a veteran of community theater in the area and off-off Broadway.

The Playshop’s presentation of Later Life is produced by Lauren Nicole Sherwood with set design by Gini Frank Fischer, lighting by Craig Gehr and sound by Ray Stephens. Robyn Mortiboys is production stage manager.

Information: 203-762-7629 or visit wiltonplayshop.org.