Review: Seize the day, says 'Ina Meyerhoff'

Theatre Conspiracy presents the winner of it's eleventh Annual New Play Contest “Time and Ina Meyerhoff”, October 9th through the 24th. Shown are Joann Haley as Ina Meyerhoff, Michael Dunsworth as Frank Minetta. The show depicts the conflicts and humor that occur when a successful older woman falls in love with a younger man. Photo courtesy Theatre Conspiracy

Theatre Conspiracy presents the winner of it's eleventh Annual New Play Contest “Time and Ina Meyerhoff”, October 9th through the 24th. Shown are Joann Haley as Ina Meyerhoff, Michael Dunsworth as Frank Minetta. The show depicts the conflicts and humor that occur when a successful older woman falls in love with a younger man. Photo courtesy Theatre Conspiracy

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IF YOU GO

What: Depicts the conflicts and humor that occur when an older woman falls in love with a younger man

When: 8 p.m. Oct. 15, 16, 17, 22, 23, 24

Where: Foulds Theater at the Lee County Alliance of the Arts complex, 10091 McGregor Boulevard, Fort Myers

Cost: $22; $10 for students

Information: 239-936-3239 or theatreconspiracy.org

Robert Feigenblatt trundles onto the Theatre Conspiracy stage at the Lee County Alliance for the Arts complex wearing a sweater Bill Cosby would have rejected. He trundles back off in a cloud of laughter, having stolen the opening night of "Time and Ina Meyerhoff" right off the gallery walls.

"Time and Ina Meyerhoff," from Massachusetts Institute of Technology theater professor Alan Brody, won the troupe's "Best New Play" competition. "Time" is the story of a May-December romance that begins when a virile flight attendant strikes up a conversation with the older woman, one Ina Meyerhoff, who's been taking the San Francisco to New York red-eye shuttle between her career on the East Coast and a comatose husband on the West.

Brody's script itself is quite good, if a bit predictable. The play wanders somewhere between being a meditation on gathering ye rosebuds while ye may and a cute-but-stolid movie-of-the-week without committing fully to either. His talents lie toward writing snappy jokes and setup-punchline dialogue; the play's comedic moments fare better, while the more serious moments have a slight stiffness about them.

The characters are drawn in absolute - likable or unlikable - with little room for the messy ambiguity that happens in real life. The quips - however clever - can't quite paper over the fact that there's not that much actual emotional depth to the work; only one character, the titular Ina Meyerhoff, has much of a growth arc during the play.

Subtlety seems to be the missing ingredient in much of "Time and Ina Meyerhoff." The play's carpe diem message comes across with all the stealth of a sledgehammer - including an awkward hospital-bedside monologue before Ina Meyerhoff leaves for Mexico with her younger hunk.

For all the sound and fury within the play over the older woman-younger lover plotline, Feigenblatt (Morty) is the breakout star of this show. His fey art dealer gets far more than his fair share of the zingers and bon mots that litter the stage, as well as a comic preoccupation with appearances that Feigenblatt takes to new heights. Merely seeing him walk in the peculiar mincing jog devoted to his character is a hoot; even his exits get a laugh.

Joann Haley (Ina Meyerhoff) and Michael Dunsworth (Frank Minetta) play the lovers caught up in this drama. Both deliver solid performances, although one could possibly wish for a bit more visible chemistry between the two; neither look the ages (65 & 40, respectively) quoted in the script either, which is sometimes jarring. For that matter, is a relationship between a 65-year-old and a 40-year-old really so shocking?

Haley is at her best during an art gallery party that requires a fairly vivid imagination and the use of a multitude of non-existent characters. She pulls off the charade beautifully and with an excess of comic grace and charm - she's the consummate hostess for an gallery full of invisible socialites. Dunsworth's character is written narrowly, but he manages to find depth with pauses, looks, glances and other quiet moments. Rick Sebastian (Brian Meyerhoff) also does well in the role of the affronted son, although his part involves mostly screaming, having his face turn purple and extending his neck tendons.

I do love the scene changes. Brody has characters literally stepping from one side of the stage to the other, speaking lines in two scenes, existing in two worlds for brief moments, until they snap completely out of one reality and into another. It is a clever way to communicate the fact that his characters often exist in different worlds.

Director Bill Taylor's set is deceptively simple - just desks and a bed that emerge from behind curtains. Perhaps he meant the bare stage as symbol of Ina Meyerhoff's empty inner life? Allen Glass's lighting is trickier; it tries to dim and brighten to match the flickering emotional moods of the piece, but the lighting changes sometimes arrive with glaring obviousness.

For all its rough edges, the play is intelligent, charming, lively and certainly entertaining. Brody has an ear for snappy dialogue if not for deeper, heartfelt conversation and the play's comedic scenes crackle with laughter. Feigenblatt keeps the audience in stitches, while Haley and Dunsworth burn with quiet intensity.

"Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying." Email me at csilk@naplesnews.com or find me on Twitter at twitter.com/napleschris

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