For his new geriatric situation comedy “Mexican Standoff at Fat Squaw Springs ,” actor-playwright Matthew Cowles has plundered Shakespeare, turning Romeo and Juliet into Chicky and Loodie, an 81-year-old New Jersey Italian-American widower and a 73-year-old Louisiana Creole widow. Friar Lawrence is a fey street priest who supplies the happy couple with both Sacrament and Viagra. The result is a play of unforgivably coy tastelessness; its only appealing aspect is its brevity.
The action begins when a bed is demolished during the couple’s first noisy sexual encounter at the Merry-Vale Home, a senior residence in Loma Linda, Calif. The play is written in a series of short scenes that take place in various rooms of the residence as well as a church office and an apartment. The backstage crew is constantly rearranging elements of the set, impeding smooth dramatic (and comedic) flow.
The dialogue is littered with references to sex and sexual organs. Loodie (Rosemarie Cepeda) speaks in a very formal, literary way peppered with French, while Chicky (Cowles) is far less educated. In addition to the precious priest (Robert English) whose sneakers don’t match, the characters include Loodie’s daughter (Judith Annozine), a lawyer with political ambitions, and Chicky’s son (Matt Daniels), a nonentity who has shortened his surname from Fennelli to Fennel in order to downplay his ethnic origins. Both offspring are appalled at their parents’ relationship, but any possible racial divide between the elderly couple is left unexplored.
Completing the onstage sextet is a nun (Cecelia Riddett), appallingly depicted as slimy, ingratiating and viciously nasty. The doctor who runs the senior residence (Christine Baranski) is heard only as a voice on the phone.
Just when the audience is puzzling over the play’s title, Cowles has Chicky explain it to us, far-fetched though the explanation is. Seems that one of the many incidents in the life of the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa was a standoff at Fat Squaw Springs, and Chicky equates his and Loodie’s standoff in her room at the Merry-Vale Home as roughly equivalent.
This being a comedy, everything works out well for Chicky and Loodie by the end of the very brief second act. The final scene, totally unsurprisingly, suggests that their children, who until now have appeared to loathe each other, will also get together romantically.
The theme of senior sex and love is perfectly valid, but Cowles has treated it cutely and even childishly. His overacted performance as Chicky is no more convincing than his play, not least because he’s nowhere near 81.
Cepeda is also much younger than the character she plays, and though she’s not unsympathetic in the role, she does overdo Loodie’s sweetness. Annozine is refreshingly straightforward as her daughter; Daniels is as bland as Chicky’s son is written.
As Cowles’ priest and nun, English and Riddett do as much as they can with their unfortunate roles. But given such a script, no cast or their director, in this case Larry Hunt, could hope to triumph.