Food for thought
Reno Little Theater’s The Golden Age is provocative and intellectually satisfying
Those looking for an easily digestible piece of theatrical entertainment to distract them from their cares and promptly disappear from memory won’t find it in The Golden Age. A.R. Gurney’s script is likely to follow you all the way home. This original and thought-provoking play deconstructs history, literature and love, then hands you the pieces on the way out of the theater. Reno Little Theater’s production is community theater as it should be—simple, well-acted and honest to the playwright’s intentions.
The play starts with Tom (Paul Dancer), a writer, arriving at a grand old brownstone house in Manhattan in search of a piece of history. Tom is obsessed with the 1920s, or as he puts it, “The Golden Age.” The history he seeks lays within the memories and artifacts of Isabel Hastings Hoyt (Harriet Beamn), an elderly woman who was once the toast of New York.
Isabel befriended many great writers and artists of her day, including Tom’s hero, F. Scott Fitzgerald. After tracking down Isabel, Tom hopes to interview her, write a book and show the world a never-before-seen side of Fitzgerald and his contemporaries.
Alas, if only it were so simple. After declaring “I’ve given up meeting people” and ordering her granddaughter to send him away, Isabel decides to let Tom into her life on her terms. She is an eccentric and often crotchety old woman who has her own agenda for Tom. Her granddaughter Virginia (Kristen Davis-Coelho) is Isabel’s last living relative and in a sorry state herself. Twice divorced, flirting with alcoholism and depression, Virginia lives with her grandmother and has few prospects for the future. Isabel decides that Tom would be an acceptable husband for her granddaughter, lends him a room in their house, and so begins a triangle of complicated relationships.
This play is character-driven, with Isabel at its center. Beaman is astounding as the high society charmer in her autumn years. Even hobbling across the stage, she carries herself with grace and grandeur. Beaman captures her character’s frailty equally well. Isabel is a complex character, and Beaman’s finely nuanced performance brings her to life.
The character of Tom is interesting and infuriating. Dancer effectively conveys Tom’s fixation on his overly romanticized vision of The Golden Age. Although his obsession is a little unusual, he is a recognizable character–the man who feels so strongly about his hobby that he finds his life, including relationships with real people, merely secondary.
Davis-Coelho gives a solid performance as Virginia, though her character is not as well drawn as the other two. Virginia feels like more of a plot device than a central player until the last scene of the play, when a major event causes her to develop a personality just in time for the curtain to fall.
Although this play is more intelligent than most, it can be less enjoyable to watch at times. The characters are deeply flawed and a quick path to redemption does not rise up at their feet. They repeat their mistakes, wallow in their shortcomings and pass up chances to turn things around. The Golden Age raises more questions than it answers. You won’t get the satisfied feeling induced by a simple play with a tidy ending, but The Golden Age provides food for thought, which is ultimately more nourishing.