Jim Henry’s romantic comedy/drama “Backwards in High Heels” employs a snapshot structure to impart the complexities of a 60-year marriage, flitting hither and yon between different time periods, from a hesitant first dance to dealing with inquisitive grandchildren. This is fine in theory, and this world-premiere production by the Road Theater Company is as strong as one could wish, with fluid direction by Ken Sawyer, first-rate production design and an accomplished cast. But there is nothing particularly intriguing about Henry’s couple or his writing, and ultimately all the scattershot structure serves to do is disguise what a generic and forgettable play this is.
Michael (Michael Dempsey) and Genevieve (Taylor Gilbert) have a long-lasting, mostly loving marriage, but it isn’t without its difficulties. When they are struck by a familial tragedy, however, their bond is strained to the breaking point. Michael retreats into drink and writing a novel, and Genevieve eventually leaves him.
They later reconcile under unique circumstances, inseparable for the rest of their lives, realizing that in some way the focus of their lives is that they are together.
Dempsey delivers a perf of gruff amiability that conceals inner sensitivity, and a scene in which he discusses a death in the family is quite moving.
Gilbert is wonderful as the maternal Genevieve, particularly in a speech where she mourns that the onset of menopause is like death to her.
Shauna Bloom brings a brash likeability to next-door neighbor Irma, and different sorts of charm to daughter Carla and granddaughter Maxie.
Daniel R. Vasquez is believable as bitter son-in-law Berl, and appropriately menacing as a memory who torments Michael.
Desma Murphy has contributed another of her phenomenal sets, this time a thoroughly realistic attic crammed with the detritus of a six-decade marriage. With the help of his own sound design and Jeremy Pivnick’s flexible lighting, director Sawyer uses the space well, creating settings ranging from a thumping factory to a dance contest to a bowling alley.
Ultimately, this is a good production of a mediocre play, a wispy collection of marital moments that is less than the sum of its parts.