Judd Apatow recently gave us “This Is Forty.” Playwright Kathryn Graf has essentially written “This Is 50,” but given her new play, in its world premiere at the Odyssey, the more intriguing but less appropriate title “The Snake Can.” It refers to that child’s toy filled with ersatz critters that jump out at you as soon as you twist off the cap. What jumps out at the Odyssey isn’t so much fake snakes, although Graf could use a good villain (or even an antagonist) among her six fiftyish singles in search love, as it is rehashed Lifetime TV.
Whether the “Snake Can” characters are divorced, separated, widowed or never been married, they do nothing but yammer on about how difficult it is just to date, much less find love, when you’re over 50. Now I know why Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet” and not about the nurse and friar having an affair.
In “The Snake Can,” children are occasionally mentioned, but no big problems there. And even though the setting is present-day New York City, everyone’s career (whether he or she be a painter, actor, journalist, whatever) appears to be in OK shape. Unemployment? Fear of getting fired? Pressed for cash? No. The one wrinkle is that Nina (Diane Cary) has taken to painting with her body rather than a brush.
Getting back to the Bard for a moment: Young love is so fascinating because 1) the lovers are always young and usually hot looking, and 2) everything is at stake. Life depends on love when it is the first time.
Graf has failed to come up with those high stakes for her mature characters. OK, there’s the threat of being old and alone. But when you’re a couple, aren’t the odds 50-50 that one of you is going to be the loser and die alone?
At the end of act one, there are just two big questions: Will Meg (Sharon Sharth) make it with Nina’s estranged husband, Paul (Gregory Harrison)? And is Stephen (James Lancaster), whom Harriet (Jane Kaczmarek) met online, actually bisexual?
Director Steven Robman does the heavy lifting of keeping his talented actors afloat with such light material. And the excellent Lancaster keeps us guessing far longer than we, or even Harriet, should.
Spoiler alert: Nina goes back to using a brush, which we are told is a good thing despite the fact that a couple of her body paintings are pretty good, especially the red-and-white one she fills with holes in a moment of pique.