Opening Nights: Assisted Living

Assisted Living

A Contemporary Theatre, 700 Union St., 292-7676, $41 and up. Runs Tues.–Sun. Ends May 12.

Dick Cheney is president. Medicare is gone. The elderly, criminalized for costing the system too much, are stored in prisonlike holding facilities and, when they die, are dumped down a floor chute in the dystopian “iPhone 12” future of Katie Forgette’s new comedy. Talk about a large, succulent buttock for hypodermic satire! The eldercare world of failing bodies, failing minds, and failed politics should breed jokes like germs in a nursery school, right?

And it does. But whether the jokes—ranging from smart to inane to forced and disgusting—land and cohere into something powerful depends on your immunity to sloppy theater. Assisted Living is rife with inconsistencies, confusing details, thinly veiled exposition about the health-care system, and cartoonish mayhem. Directed by R. Hamilton Wright (Forgette’s husband), the all-star cast painstakingly breathes pep into the flimsy plot about demoralized old folks rising up against the Power (embodied by Julie Briskman as the tyrannical Nurse Claudia) in order to produce a Nativity play and reclaim their desire to live. As per the pharma ads, “Results may vary.”

Kurt Beattie and Marianne Owen play Joe and Judy, the most relatable, appealing, and romantically viable of the four singleton codgers we meet. Mitzi and Wally (Laura Kenny and Jeff Steizer) share bladder issues—she has urinary accidents, he sports a catheter bag at the ankle. Wally and Mitzi exist mostly for comic purposes shoehorned into the script. (When Mitzi sits on Nurse Claudia’s chair, Claudia unbelievably berates her for impersonation rather than for imperiling the chair; moments later, Mitzi fouls the chair, as though we or Claudia wouldn’t have seen that coming a mile away.) The story too often serves the gags, not vice versa. Still, the folks around me laughed a lot.

On the upside, there are some fiercely weird moments, some provocative ones, and some touching ones. Felonious orderly Kevin (Tim Gouran) yells “Stiff! Incoming!” when he drops a body down the chute. Claudia’s Twinkie-police meltdown, about how unhealthy boomers bankrupted their descendants, duly voices the conservative side of the entitlements debate. Later, Joe and Judy’s insomniac date in the deserted rec room, gently lit by Rick Paulsen to contrast with the daylight glare, is the sweeter for broken rules and mortality. But soon it’s back to slapstick and who winds up with the tranquilizer guns.

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