Reviewed by Dana Martin
Australian Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre
Through October 8
Growing old is often difficult terrain to navigate. Grey Nomad, a new play by Australian playwright Dan Lee, uniquely examines the evolution of two recently retired couples, both knee-deep in mid-life crises. Each couple is traveling throughout Australia via camper trailer, joining a growing movement of on-the-move retirees affectionately referred to as Grey Nomads. Lee allows the play to unfold gradually, slowly revealing the humor and complexities of two drastically different marriages, towing the line between serious and silly.
Jim (David Ross Paterson) and Helen (Ros Gentle), a long-time married couple and recent empty nesters, struggle to settle into their new identities as they live out Jim’s long-time retirement fantasy: the open road, beautiful sunsets, endless fishing, and an almost permanent escape from reality. Helen, though making a true effort to relax and enjoy herself, is lonely. She misses her kids and longs for the comforts of home. She has considerable difficulty settling into the rhythm her husband desperately desires. Introverted Jim clings to his wife’s security and easy nature, and detests visitors of any kind. He bristles and blusters as eccentric fellow travelers Val (boisterous Wendy Hammers) and Tim (delightful Paul Tassone) soon descend upon him and Helen (a comparatively prudish couple), and bare all.
The ensemble delights as they humorously and wholeheartedly negotiate the uncertainty of their respective circumstances. Paterson’s Jim is a lovable curmudgeon. He’s a guy that’s been in an oddly charming bad mood for the whole of his adult life. He’s clingy and introverted and hides behind his good-natured wife. Paterson navigates the rhythm of the play well, at times spitting the text out rapid-fire, while revealing his character’s inner life gradually and subtly.
Gentle’s Helen is warmhearted and kind. She finds genuine glee in the marital banter and presents a welcome contrast to Paterson’s appropriate rigidity. Further, she finds a variety of ways to stand her ground, gradually shifting the relationship’s dynamic. Wendy Hammers finds a larger-than-life Val. She gives the impression of a loud, fun-loving and care-free soul, while masking her fear of losing her husband. Finally, Paul Tassone’s Zen yogi Tim is zany and charming. He has a light and airy energy, and his final scene is grounded in strength and quiet revelation.
Director Iain Sinclair keeps the staging simple and makes good use of the space. He maintains a clipped pace throughout. Se Oh’s scenic design is slick and minimal: a blank slate. Coupled with bold lighting by Jared A. Sayeg, the set is an appropriate canvas for the play’s many locations. Costume designer Kate Bergh’s work is flowing and playful. Sound designer Cricket S. Myers helps create subtle storytelling throughout.
The play leaves this bit of insight: Getting old, as difficult as it can be, isn’t without a lot of joy. Have courage, hit the open road, shed your old skin and live a little — before it’s too late.
Australian Theatre Company at the Skylight Theatre, 1816 1/2 N. Vermont Ave., Hollywood; Mon. & Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m.,; through Oct. 8. (866) 881-4111 or australiantheatrecompany.org. Running time: one hour and 50 minutes with an intermission.