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SUPER SENIORS: It Knows What It is, Which is a Good Thing

by | Jun 8, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

This morning, the friend who accompanied me to Super Seniors emailed to say that the show left her feeling good and “That feels like it ought to be a metric for the value of a live theatre event, don’t you think?” Yep. I had a good time at Super Seniors and that counts for a lot.

Kathryn Shaw’s new script — Shaw was the head of Langara’s theatre program for 35 years; this is her first play — is about three women who are living in the Fairfield Seniors’ Residence. They’re all over 105 years old. (Shaw comes from a line of long-lived women.)

Because so much material that deals with seniors is condescending, I was afraid of that going in, but I needn’t have worried. As a writer, Shaw establishes the play’s eccentric, comedic tone from the very beginning. Sitting in a wheelchair, and played by Shaw herself, Elizabeth, the central character, delivers a monologue in which she tells us about swimming out to sea to drown, to shed the life that has overstayed its welcome. In an almost ecstatic moment, Elizabeth finds herself surrounded by seals, but then she hears a ruckus from the shore and a do-gooder swims out and insists on “rescuing” her. Elizabeth is pissed.

There’s darkness in this, but it always comes in the resilient form of irreverence. When a perky TV reporter is interviewing Elizabeth and her friends, she asks Elizabeth the secret of her long life and Elizabeth answers, “Bad genes.”

Elizabeth’s best buddies include Hildy, who flirts with the male staff and is determined to make it to her 110th birthday, and Mildred, who has dementia, but remembers an appropriate song for every occasion. This is a terrific device and, playing Mildred, Patti Allan nails the delivery: she catches both Mildred’s through-a-glass-darkly struggle to communicate and her total physical commitment to the playlist of her life, including “Woolly Bully”.

Starting in Act 1, I became aware that the storytelling in Super Seniors doesn’t offer a lot of accumulating insight. Elizabeth pursues her goal of death — when she finds out she has high blood pressure, she starts knocking back salt — and her friendships deepen, but it’s not like she’s learning a lot. So Super Seniors isn’t a “well-made play” in the sense of escalating narrative tension and so on, but that doesn’t really matter because it does a very good job of being what it is: a gentle rumination on the conundrum of old age explored through a series of comic vignettes.

In Act 2, a scene in which Elizabeth coaches Hildy on writing a dating profile is overly deliberate and not every iteration of the kill-me device works but, fed by its ongoing surprises and affectionate eccentricity, the writing is successful overall.

Shaw attacks her performance as Elizabeth with a winning combination of gusto and internal authenticity. And, as I said, Allan’s Mildred is terrific. Because Annabel Kershaw is obviously “playing old”, with a croaky voice and hunched physicality, her Hildy feels slightly out of step, but she, too, has an active internal life. I also really enjoyed Matheus Severo’s work as both an orderly and an activities coordinator. This young actor’s comic timing is so offhand; it really worked for me.

Director Anita Rochon has invited percussionist June Mirochnik to provide live accompaniment, which is a great idea: it keeps the rhythms going. And the production’s final moment is its best surprise.

Super Seniors knows what it wants to do — and does it. That’s a gift.


SUPER SENIORS by Kathryn Shaw. Directed by Anita Rochon. On Friday, June 7. A Western Gold Theatre prodution. Running at the PAL Theatre until June 23. Tickets


PHOTO CREDIT: Kathryn Shaw, Annabel Kershaw, and Patti Allan in a publicity photo by Javier Sotres


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Copyright ©2024 Colin Thomas. All rights reserved.