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Managing Maxine

a Comedy
CATEGORY : COMEDY
by Janece Shaffer

COMPANY : Alliance Theatre Company [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Woodruff Art Center [WEBSITE]
ID# 3194

SHOWING : October 15, 2008 - November 02, 2008

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

A real "Coming of Age" story as 70-Year old Maxine finds the man of her dreams. But is her heart young enough to survive the transition?


CAST & CREW LIST
Original Music by Haddon Givens Kime
Director Susan V. Booth
Sound Designer Clay Benning
Emmy Courtenay Collins
Larry Larry Larson
Ivy Courtney Patterson
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

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Eyes Wide Shut
by Dedalus
Monday, October 27, 2008
4.5
Some people fall in love with their eyes sealed shut – they want to ride the dizzying force that sweeps them to places they never knew. Others fall in love with their eyes wide open, well aware of the pitfalls ahead and the benefits that may come. I went into the Alliance’s production of “Managing Maxine” with the illusion that my eyes were wide open (I had reservations about “Bluish,” playwright Janece Shaffer’s previous Alliance effort), but expecting them to shut soon after the start (I was running on little/no sleep for the week).

Surprise!

Not only was I swept away by the giddy laughs of the first act, I was also enthralled by the sadder and wiser intimations of the second. Not only that, the play kept my sleep-deprived eyes open throughout, hungry for more.

This is the third play about passion and love between people over “a certain age” that I’ve encountered this year. I was fairly strict with Kudzu Playhouse’s “Bermuda Avenue Triangle” because I found it exploitative in a “lets make fun of the old people” way – to me, it felt as if the playwright never went deeper than an “isn’t it funny that old people fall in love” level. On the other hand, Theatrical Outfit’s “Southern Comforts” clicked for me – it was a realistic (and funny) look at the roadblocks older couples encounter, without denying the surprises unexpected passion can bring to a seemingly “Been-There Seen-That” heart.

“Managing Maxine” is squarely in the “Southern Comforts” vein – Jana Roberts establishes herself at the start as Maxine, coming across as a real and eccentric character, who earns her laughs, not because she’s an 70-year-old in love, but because she’s Maxine, finding a passion she “missed by that much” during her younger years. She sets up her own blind date with Arthur (Ross Bickell), a widower judge still in the thrall of his wife’s memory. Faster than you can say “Who’s chasing whom,” they are “dating” and in love, much to the consternation of their grown children.

After building the relationship with a first act rife with laughs and keen observation at the surprises love can bring, a note of sobriety is brought in in the person of Ivy (Courtney Patterson), Arthur’s daughter, still in grief for her mother, struggling with her own disappointments (a straying husband, a demanding child, and a dead-end job). The last thing she needs is seeing this strange woman “touching her Mother’s stuff.” And, it is her still on-the-sleeve grief that reminds Arthur that he remains very much in love with his dead wife, and that Maxine will never take her place.

Maxine’s family, also, is an unhappy construct – an over-taxed middle-aged daughter Emmy (Courtenay Collins), coupled with a too-nice husband (Larry Larson), and a too-randy daughter. With all the unbridled coupling going on around her, Emmy wonders when it’s going to be her turn for passion. When Maxine begins venting about Arthur’s devotion to his family, Emmy (with not a little exasperation) observes You have to learn to share. You’ve always sucked at share.” Emmy may have her problems, but she knows her mother.

What I liked about this script is that these people are tangled up in the often ambivalent and contradictory ties-that-bind when it comes to family and love. Maxine and Arthur have lived and loved a long time, and are not really used to letting themselves go. When they do, it’s funny and moving, and vividly reminds us that there are many different kinds of love, that just because you love someone new, you are not betraying the memory of the one you loved before. There is room in your heart (and your life) for many different loves. And, with Emmy, we see that when you judge your own relationship by what you see in another’s, you do a disservice to yourself and to those you love.

And, to it off, the dialog is hysterically funny, with a humor based on character, unexpected reversal, and razor-sharp observation about the many different facets of love and passion and, yes, even grief. It may be just me, but I found more to laugh at in the first fifteen minutes of this play, than in the entire “Second City” production downstairs.

This is a very handsome production, with a nicely realized Atlanta skyline by scenic artist Kat Conley that is effective in both day and night scenes (not to mention the fireworks and fire-engine flasher effects coming at a clichéd and critical climax). The lighting smoothly creates a number of scenes and moods, and is especially effective at letting Maxine step out of the action to address us directly. And the cast hits every note right, making us see the attractiveness that they see in each other, letting us also see the pain just below the surface of their glib jokes and jaded observations. I liked how Ms. Robbins’ Maxine comes close to the edge of “Jewish Mother” caricature, than pulls back with a totally unexpected gesture or vocal mannerism. Mr. Bickell is every bit her equal, a stolid and grounding life force that keeps her sane and steady, yet he keeps Arthur leavened with his own brand of humor. Of the supporting cast, Courtenay Collins is a lovely and frenetic Emmy, making her more than a counterpoint to Maxine, but a sometimes sad, always driven life-force in her own right. And, in what is essentially the “wet blanket” role of Ivy, Courtney Patterson is never whiney even when she’s whining – we see the pain, the grief that she carries for her mother and her own failed marriage, and my heart broke for her. One gets the impression that, for Ivy, when it comes to her father dating, “Never” may even be a bit too soon.

So, here is a production, a play that looks at love and family in an Eyes-Wide-Open way, told with enough wit and energy, that it kept my own wanting-to-close eyes open and laughing. It’s the perfect date play, even if you’re going alone (and sleepy).

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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