"My Old Lady" a Comic and Dramatic Gem
By Skip Sheffield
“My Old Lady” runs like a precision hand-crafted gold pocket watch at Palm Beach Dramaworks. The Israel Horovitz comedy-drama runs through Jan. 5 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.
A gold pocket watch has a significant role in this "love letter to France," which Israel Horovitz embraced when he was only 20-years-old.
That was more than 50 years ago. In the years since the Massachusetts writer-director has become a leading playwright in France, with more than 50 translated productions of his work.
Horovitz was inspired by the uniquely French concept of "viager," which enables an elderly owner of property to sell a building below market value in exchange for living privileges and an income for life for the seller.
Such is the case with Mathilde Girard (Estelle Parsons), the 92-year-old owner of an elegant French townhouse overlooking the Jardin du Luxembourg in Paris. Mathilde is a refined and lovely woman in reasonably good health and sharp of intellect. Living with Mathilde is her 50-year-old never-married daughter Chloe (Angelica Page), an English teacher at the school her mother founded.
Into this cozy relationship blunders Mathias "Jim" Gold (Tim Altmeyer), a 53-year-old thrice-married, self-described loser from New York City. Penniless, relapsing alcoholic Mathias has only a fancy gold pocket watch and a claim to the townhouse occupied by the Girard women, left to him by his late, estranged father Max.
British-born Mathilde is not unaware of Mathias because she has been informed by her lawyer of his inheritance. Chloe has no such insight and she is instantly hostile and combative when she encounters the strange American wearing her father's bathrobe.
The reason Mathias' father's bathrobe is in the townhouse is because he and Mathilde were lifelong lovers, though locked into loveless marriages to others.
Among the several revelations in "My Old Lady" is the difference between Americans and French in attitudes regarding love, marriage and fidelity. The crude, self-centered and resentful Mathias becomes enlightened by the older and younger Girard ladies, who resolve some of their own conflicts too.
The esteemed Estelle Parsons, who is both an Academy Award-winner ("Bonnie & Clyde," 1967) and a 2004 inductee to the Theater Hall of Fame, is simply one of the finest actors working in America today. She plays five years older and more fragile than her robust, agile 87-year-old self. Parsons radiates a fierce intelligence and rapier wit essential to her character, working with two skilled actors with whom she has worked before. Both Tim Altmeyer's Mathias and Angelica Page's Chloe have unresolved parental issues and an unrealized yearning for a committed romantic relationship. It is the detente of adversaries and blossoming of Mathias and Chloe's relationship that provides the warmth and hope in this, the most sharply-realized version of a play that was first performed in 2002. Director William Hayes worked closely with the playwright in creating a new, definitive version of the stage play. Horovitz wrote and directed a 2014 film version of "My Old Lady" starring an A-list cast including Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristen Scott Thomas. Other than the fact the movie had gorgeous actual Paris locations, I can say I enjoyed this stage version even more. Kudos to everyone.
Tickets are $62 ($10 students) and may be reserved by calling 561-514-4042 or going to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.