THE OLD LADY'S GUIDE TO SURVIVAL, Wisdom Bridge Theatre, at the Ivanhoe Theater. From the category of things that make you go oy: The advertisements for Mayo Simon's The Old Lady's Guide to Survival read "Bring Your Parents." Perhaps the folks over at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, which is producing the show at the Ivanhoe, should have added the line "And hope they forgive you afterward." Simon's two-character comedy/drama about seniors coping with the aging process is a singularly unenjoyable work--the sort of play that fades from memory even before the last tour-bus passenger has been deposited at the Como Inn for the postshow repast.
Simon, a Hollywood scriptwriter whose resume most notably includes sci-fi features like Futureworld and Marooned, predictably mines the lives of two widows--Netty, a self-reliant octogenarian losing her sight, and Shprintzy, a childish, happy-go-lucky nudnick whose cheerful exterior belies a miserable home life--for maximum easy laughs and tears. What seems intended as a clearheaded, unromantic take on old age fails to create any but the most banal emotional impact due to its glib, TV-style dialogue and its insubstantial characters; they win our sympathy, but only in the way anyone losing their sight or mind would.
The few pleasures to be had in this production are provided by the endearing Shirl Bernheim in the role of Shprintzy, the play's live wire. As the independent-minded Netty, Marge Kotlisky--a last-minute substitution for ailing show-biz veteran June Havoc--is adequate but never fully convincing.
Through my crystal ball, I can see a Broadway run for Simon's play. But even when the Tony Awards broadcast rolls around, I'll still be dozing.