Fans of actress Elizabeth Black should hurry to Lincoln City’s Theatre West, as she has decided to make “A Bench in the Sun,” the comedy by Ron Clark, her last stage performance.
“This is my swan song,” said the 83-year-old, who has been acting regularly in plays and performing one-woman shows based on her own life for almost 30 years.
“It’s just getting too hard to memorize lines these days. I wanted a play where I didn’t have as many lines as the other actors, but still had a real role.”
Black plays Adrienne, a retired but once-famous Hollywood actress who changes the lives of two old friends, Harold, played by Wes Ryan, and Burt, played by Rich Emery, when she moves into the retirement home where they spend most of their days outside on a bench, verbally and occasionally physically sparring.
The vibrancy of the faded beauty gives the men something new to fight over, as they each vie for Adrienne’s affections and try to keep up with her.
The ever-self-deprecating Black said one of the big reasons for choosing to leave the stage in the shoes of Adrienne was the chance to step into a role that was very different from her own life.
“I just love the idea that despite my somewhat questionable appearance I was portraying an attractive woman,” she said. “I’ve never portrayed a woman pursued by not one, but two men; it is quite fun.”
Deep respect for her co-stars was another draw.
“I’ve acted with and been directed by both Rich and Wes,” she said. “I admire both of those gentlemen so much — they aren’t just marvelous actors, but also understanding directors.
Wes had the role down pat from the beginning, and Rich as the grumpy one is hilarious because it’s so different from who he is as a person.”
The lines written by Clark, whose credits include everything from “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” to “Moonlighting,” are funny, poignant and quick, but it is the flow between the three actors that turns the play into something special.
“It was a dream cast for me,” said director Danielle Ryan. “They couldn’t have made rehearsals any easier or more enjoyable.”
Black, though, said the director exhibited abundant patience.
“Danielle had to deal with a lot of struggling, at least from me,” Black said. “She really was an angel during rehearsals.”
Any struggling appears to have been worked out off-stage, as each performance is beautifully nuanced, and any seeming memory lapses only make sense for those portraying seniors.
And though a bit young for the role, Emery channeled his future grumpy old man with a perfection that must send a chill down the back of his wife, also an actress.
A small tree — one of the few onstage props — provides a lovely subtle nod to the changing of the seasons, blooming in the second scene and seeing its green leaves replaced with yellow by the last.
The passage of time is also what provides the bulk of the poignancy in the plot for the audience and the actors.
“The play is touching for me,” Black said, “because I know that one of these days I will have to go into some kind of care facility. It’s coming, and time flies; when you hit my age it’s like living two years in one. One of my favorite lines from the play is, ‘They keep us alive but they don’t keep us living.’ I couldn’t agree more. My life has been such an adventure and I intend to keep it that way.”
“A Bench in the Sun” runs through March 30, with performances at 7:30 pm every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening except for Saturday, March 23, and one 2 pm Sunday matinée on March 17. Theatre West is located at 3536 SE Hwy. 101. Tickets are $15 for adults and $13 for seniors and students. For reservations, call 541-994-5663. A special Dinner Theater performance will be held at the Beach Club and Event Center, on Saturday, March 23. Tickets are $40. Call 541-418-5468 for tickets.