JUNE 2024 | Volume 240


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Super Seniors
by Kathryn Shaw
Western Gold Theatre
PAL Studio Theatre, 581 Cardero St.
June 6-23

In all the talk about a crisis in Canadian theatre where attendance continues to lag significantly post-COVID, one of the key factors cited is the aging-out of audiences. Vancouver theatre audiences have long been near or at the senior end of the scale. So why not program more plays that speak to older folks’ experiences, desires and fears.

Enter Kathryn Shaw. After decades of running the theatre program at Langara’s Studio 58, Shaw has aimed her first work as a playwright directly at those of us who are closer to the end than the beginning, who feel the years in our bodies and brains, and attend more funerals than weddings. For Super Seniors, Shaw follows the path of Morris Panych, whose dark existential comedies often feature characters contemplating their own demise. Though somewhat lighter and brighter, Shaw’s study of extreme old age also pokes into some pretty bleak corners.

We’re in a care home where the oldest residents top 105. These super seniors are Elizabeth (Shaw), Hildy (Annabel Kershaw) and Mildred (Patti Allan). Curmudgeonly Elizabeth, with the sharpest mind, hates her situation and wants to end her life. “I’ve outlived everyone I know. Who cares if I’m alive.” But as she tells it, do-gooders keep saving her, foiling her plan.

Hildy, about to turn 110, is the upbeat member of the trio. Aiming to be the world’s oldest woman, she loves dancing and eating: “If I can eat, I know I’m alive.” Mildred seems lost in dementia but has her lucid moments. Her mantras: “I don’t know who I am” followed by “I want ice cream.” Other people’s conversations cue Mildred to break into snatches of old songs.

Their caregivers try half-heartedly but can’t help condescending. The dining room server (Matheus Severo) looks like he wants to be anywhere but there. Cheery facilitator Cameron (Severo again) organizes activities for the women that inevitably crash and burn. Supervisor Twyla (Alisha Davidson), though not quite One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’s Big Nurse, presides over her own low-key tyranny and radiates indifference. Her idea of a break from routine for the women is a field trip to the mall.

Produced by Western Gold Theatre, which specializes in employing older artists, the show strikes a delicate balance between the funny and awful aspects of extreme old age, and finds some shining moments of tenderness, too. These senior actors give full value to their super senior characters. Shaw keeps Elizabeth’s primary objective in sharp focus. Her constant scheming to find some way to die generates a lot of laughs, alternating with the poignant and powerful moments when she has to reconcile herself to going on. Kershaw plays Hildy’s optimistic cheer with a nicely subtle underlay of desperation. Allan’s deadpan Mildred, lost in space, is hilarious and terrifying: the living exemplar of why long life, by itself, should be no one’s objective.

Director Anita Rochon provides good pace and nice variety as the characters navigate their wheelchairs and walkers around Pam Johnson’s set. Rochon allows this premiere production plenty of room to find its feet. It could use some shaping and trimming in the second act, much of which replicates the first. But if you intend to grow old or are contemplating the nightmare of sending a loved one to a live-in facility, treat yourself to laughing your way through Super Seniors.



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