Old friends go away and don’t come back. Things can get difficult in the later years of life.
But wait, there’s still fun to be had, at least if you have friends as entertaining and wise as those who populate Paul Elliott’s “Exit Laughing,” the latest comedy offering from The Footlights in Falmouth.
The 2013 play concerns a foursome of female friends who have long gathered for a weekly bridge night. When one passes away, the “girls” get hold of her ashes and the game is back on, albeit with one seemingly silent partner. But actually, the recently departed Mary has a lot to say. Through messages and gifts that she arranged to arrive after her death, she sets in motion a new beginning for her friends.
Elliott has written for TV and movies in the past and this play, as director Michael J. Tobin noted in his introduction to Sunday’s matinee performance, feels like “Golden Girls” meets “Steel Magnolias.” It relies on characters who are “characters,” that is, women who have entered the second half of life armed with one-liners and quirky personalities that are amusing but also serve to keep them in defensive “cocoons.”
As the play’s evening progresses and the alcohol and risqué talk begin to flow, the surviving bridge players establish their relationships and histories through accumulated bits and pieces that gradually form into a picture. They are likable Southern ladies who’ve not been particularly fulfilled in their lives, especially in relation to men.
Jackie Oliveri plays Leona, a brassy “lush” who tends to avoid relationships requiring commitment. She worries about the effect that gravity is having on her figure, remembering when she used to dance up a storm.
Cindy O’Neil, as the wacky Millie, whose “car doesn’t run on a full tank,” misunderstands a lot – to sometimes hilarious effect – but also proves essential to the group.
Paula Price plays the more responsible Connie. Though her scolding daughter, played by Megan E. Tripaldi, says she’s “not supposed to have fun,” she learns to let go and enjoy it when her pals and a surprise visitor, played by Bartley Mullin, pull her into party mode.
Despite this show being about the older generation, Tripaldi and Mullin, as the relative youngsters, have a lot to say in setting their elders on course. Both were very good Sunday.
All of the cast members, in fact, did a fine job of realizing their characters and, while one could focus on individual moments for each, it was really the ensemble performance that impressed the most. They’re a fun bunch.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.