Reviewed by Judy Richter
Many a play looks at young love, but few look at senior citizen love. "Southern Comforts" by Kathleen Clark looks at the latter with amusing, touching success. Joy Carlin directs the West Coast premiere of this two-person, intermissionless play with great sensitivity for TheatreWorks.
The action takes place in a sparsely furnished Morris, N.J., living room during the last half of 1996. (The handsome set is by Frank Sarmiento with lighting by Michael Palumbo, costumes by Cathleen Edwards, and music and sound by Cliff Caruthers.) The home belongs to Gus Klingman (TheatreWorks favorite Edward Sarafian), a curmudgeonly widower who likes his uncomplicated life just like it is, thank you very much.
His life is interrupted one rainy afternoon when the cheerful, chatty Amanda Cross (Karen Grassle, best known as Ma on TV's "Little House on the Prairie"), a Tennessee widow visiting her daughter and grandchildren, delivers pledge envelopes for the church. They discover they have not only widowhood but also love of baseball in common. They see each other off and on after that, and one sees the beginning of affection and friendship, perhaps even romance. However, Gus is so obtuse and so non-introspective that it takes a long time for him to see and understand what's happening.
Carlin and the two actors handle the transitions subtlety but surely. The outgoing Amanda casually pats Gus on the arm during conversation. The gruff Gus starts smiling more. The changes involve some hilarity, especially as Amanda broaches the delicate subjects of sex and then of commitment, but the situations ring true to the characters. There's conflict, too, but ultimately they both realize how lucky they are to have a second chance at love so late in life and to have the opportunity to live out their lives together rather than alone.