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THEATER REVIEW: “Quartet” at The Old Globe

Call me a grumpy old fogey, but to me there’s nothing funny about aging and the concomitant loss of memory and capabilities. Maybe I’m just a little too close to the issue.

Ronald Harwood’s “Quartet” takes a trio of aging former opera singers, adds an aging diva with a history and asks whether they will manage to stop snarking at each other long enough to sing together for an upcoming concert. “Quartet” plays through Aug. 24 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre. Richard Seer (who runs the Globe’s MFA acting program with USD) directs.

The four former singers live in a rather spiffy British home for retired musicians in Kent, where every year the residents present a concert on Verdi’s birthday, Oct. 10. The unseen “Il Duce,” administrator of the home, has suggested they might sing the “Rigoletto” quartet. After all, the CD of their acclaimed performance of the opera has just been re-released.

It sounds like a good idea for a play. Every one of these characters is quirky: Cissy (Jill Tanner), the ample Mother Earth type whose memory is fast fading; Wilfred (Roger Forbes), a big bear of a baritone who apparently has thought about nothing but sex since puberty; Reg (Robert Foxworth), the skinny, cantankerous tenor; and new arrival, soprano diva Jean (Elizabeth Franz), whose brief marriage to Reg has left rancorous scars on both.

But the story gets derailed by Jean when she absolutely refuses to sing and doesn’t explain. Time is wasted trying to “convince” her when it’s obvious to observers that there will be four people on that stage at the appointed hour.

The other problem is the sitcom-like script weighed down by mean comments all around – though some are at least clever – and by redundancy, since memory loss is one of the givens. How many times does Cissy have to forget what she was going to say – or does Wilf have to make lecherous comments to her – before the audience stops finding it amusing and wants to bolt for the door?

It’s a pity, because these are fine actors who succeed in pumping life into these stereotypical characters, then are left treading water until the amusing last scene, when they open a trunk of costumes and prepare to “be someone” again.

Kudos to Ralph Funicello for the inviting set design (complete with piano), and to York Kennedy, for the excellent lighting. Charlotte Devaux has designed fitting costumes, and Christopher R. Walker contributes a fine sound design.

“Art is meaningless if it does not make you feel,” says Wilf, and he’s put his finger on the problem right there.

The details

“Quartet” is extended through Aug. 24 at The Old Globe’s Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park in San Diego, California.

Tuesday and Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7 pm.

Tickets: (619) 234-5623 or HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.