Like their characters Burt, Harold and Adrienne, the actors performing in “A Bench in the Sun,” at the Coaster Theatre, are longtime friends who have shared the stage for more than 20 years.
The play’s director, Ann Bronson, is also part of that friendship.
“All three of these people were in my first show at the Coaster,” Bronson said. “They are people I feel very comfortable working with.”
David Sweeney, Frank Jagodnik and Jagodnik’s wife, Liz McCall, appeared in “The Music Man” with Bronson in the summer of 2000.
In the play, Burt (Sweeney) and Harold (Jagodnik), have known each other since childhood. The pair are residents of Valley View Gardens, where they share a garden bench daily and bicker over small things. But when Adrienne (McCall), a once-famous actress, moves in, they have something new to argue about.
The play, McCall said, is about friendship — “all the different stages of your life seen through the eyes of your friendship.”
It’s also about how friends going through a rough patch can get through it with the help of a third party. In this case, Adrienne reinvigorates the friendship between Burt and Harold.
“We believe that she is Mary Poppins for seniors,” Jagodnik said. “She comes in here to bring these two back together — they have been estranged. Just having her there changes their outlook on things.”
Age is another important aspect in the play.
“How do you live when everything in your life is suddenly harder? Or threatened?” Sweeney said.
“(The play) shows senior citizens as fully-rounded people,” Bronson said. “I think sometimes we see them as caricatures, but they’re still interested in sex and love relationships. They’re the same as anyone else, just older. Nothing really changes.”
The show is Bronson’s directing debut. She decided to try directing after seeing a fellow actor direct for the first time at a recent Coaster show.
“It was something I wondered if I could do,” Bronson said.
Directing has brought new challenges for Bronson.
“Sometimes a problem will arise and I’m waiting for someone else to fix it, and then I realize, oh no, I have to figure this out,” Bronson said.
She’s learned that being a director also requires compromise.
“I have these ideas for how I’d like to see these characters played, and what they (the actors) have come up with — which is great — hasn’t always been what I saw,” Bronson said. “I know I’ve done the same thing to other directors … You are in control, but ultimately you have to let it be.”
Playing the part
Because the actors are somewhat younger than the senior citizens they play, they had to consider how to physically portray their characters’ ages.
“For me, ‘It was slow down, short steps. Don’t be in a hurry to go anywhere, don’t reach for something real fast,’” Jagodnik said. “Physically, that’s what I keep thinking: ‘I can’t move that fast.’”
Lessons to learn
The cast hopes audiences learn something from the show, even if they don’t see an assisted living residence in their future.
“A sunny attitude makes a big difference — not only in how you enjoy life but how people enjoy you,” McCall said. “It is easy to get more negative if you get older, and you have to press against that.”
“Especially if you’ve had loss and you’re hurting physically,” Jagodnik added.
McCall also hopes audience members see the show’s emphasis on living in the moment.
“You can prepare for the future, but not live for it,” McCall said.