September 21, 2006
by Trish Soodik
On stage: ‘The 60s’ an emotional romp through human foibles
BY JEFF FAVRE
Too frequently these days plays use nostalgia as a crutch. Character development and realistic dialogue are forsaken for references to buzz words from specific eras.
But “The 60s” is a refreshing change. Yes, the dramedy has a few flashbacks and recollections of the tumultuous 20th century decade — plus a groovy soundtrack.
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But Trish Soodik’s latest effort, directed by Paul Linke for Pacific Resident Theatre, is an honest and complex story about love. It’s also quite funny.
The entire cast, Steve Vinovich and Mariette Hartley in particular, refrain from over-acting, which keeps the relationships and actions realistic. It’s not surprising, given Linke’s strong track record of clear, concise direction.
It’s a story that will connect with all adults, but contemporaries of the lead characters likely will feel a particular kinship.
Set in present day Culver City, “The 60s” revolves around Norman (Vinovich) and Grace (Hartley).
They have been divorced for four years, but they see each other daily when Norman, now retired, visits the pharmacy he once co-ran with the still-working Grace.
They divorced because Norman cheated. Trying to recapture his youth, he now lives alone and spends his days hitting on extremely young women or hanging out with his nerdy pal, Joe (Jerry Sroka) and his nights at a dance club.
It’s there that he meets Audrey (Dana Dewes), who used to visit his pharmacy when she was a girl.
Audrey’s marriage troubles have her leaning on Norman for support. He’d like it to be more, but she has eyes for Norman’s son, Adam (Kevin Rahm), who still hasn’t forgiven his dad for cheating on his mother.
Many conversations take place in Norman’s mind, with Grace serving as his conscience.
The light tone takes a couple of abrupt downward turns, which, at times, are quite sad and purposefully uncomfortable. But there’s always a sense of optimism.
Soodik’s writing shows genuine insight into the challenges of aging, whether it’s Joe’s inability to order at Starbucks or Norman’s problems with gout.
The older characters are never portrayed as stupid, so when they struggle with little things it’s funny and not embarrassing.
“The 60s” requires a deft performance for the role of Norman to work, which is exactly what Vinovich delivers. He makes Norman seem likable, despite his many failings.
He also exudes enough charm and charisma that it almost seems as if he might get a date with one of the many beautiful young women he approaches.
Hartley’s portrayal of Grace is subtle but effective. Grace is quiet and pleasant, but Hartley injects a sense of strength that makes her admirable.
Dewes, who has shined in other PRT productions, is again charming and engaging as the emotionally scarred but lovable Audrey.
Linke is adept at pacing and tone. He never rushes the exchanges, but the story flows without ever dragging. Linke knows that comedy comes from realism, and by pulling back on the reins, his cast elicits even bigger laughs than Soodik may have expected.
“The 60s” is beautiful in its simplicity and intelligence. It occasionally offers a touch of nostalgia, but its theme never strays from the importance of what’s happening now.
“The 60s” plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays through Nov. 19 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Tickets are $20-$25. Information: 310-822-8392 or www.pacificresidenttheatre.com.
Jeff Favre is a freelance entertainment writer based in Los Angeles.