Veteran TV/legit scripter Sherwood Schwartz (celebrating his 90th birthday) honed his zinger skills as head writer on such TV variety and sitcom fare as “The Red Skelton Show” and “The Joan Davis Show.” His zesty one-liners permeate “Rockers,” an often hilarious look at the lives of three elderly women living in the Garden Palace Retirement Home just outside Gotham. Helmer Marcia Rodd is thoroughly in sync with Schwartz’s sitcom rhythms, guiding a talented ensemble that instills impressive levels of character depth in their comedic personas.
Ruling over the front-porch rocking chairs of their haven for the aged are relentlessly grumpy Irish-American Kate (Pat Crawford Brown), yenta-to-the-hilt Rose (Elsa Raven) and Louella (Lee Meriwether), the ultimate ditzy Southern belle.
Schwartz and Rodd balance the action effectively, giving each of these divas ample opportunity to offer her colorful perspective on herself and her compatriots in repose, the staff of their group “home” and the well-meaning but hapless kin who come to visit. They also level prickly barbs at the other residents, including would-be lothario Mr. Fletcher (Jack Kutcher).
Brown’s Kate is the ultimate curmudgeon, finding fault with everything from the retirement home’s menu to the placement of her chair on the porch.
Raven’s Rose is so adept at the well-timed one-liner that it sounds as if she spent considerable time on the Borscht Belt circuit.
Meriwether’s Louella exudes a totally captivating clueless gentility. When Rose rants at God, asking why He took another elderly resident instead of her, Louella offers a sympathetic and heartfelt, “Maybe he will.”
Some serious moments offer a nice counterbalance to the general zaniness. Kate’s daughter Peggy, played with an amalgam of guilt and staunch resolve by Arden Teresa Lewis, denies her mother’s request to live with her so that she can continue to love her. Louella’s successful, globetrotting son is too busy to spend time with his mother.
A highlight of the production is the arrival of Rose’s son Marty (Matthew Hoffman), an actor about to go into rehearsal in a way Off Broadway staging of “King Lear.” Rose’s reaction is a dismissive, “Shakespeare was good, but he was no Neil Simon!” But it gives the ladies a great opportunity to clown their way through a farcical introduction to Lear’s three daughters.
Complementing the shenanigans of these three grand old dames is Joseph M. Altadonna and Daniel Keough’s spacious front-porch setting, highlighted by Yancey Dunham’s realistic, sun-drenched lighting.