As we grow older, the thought occurs that we may be spending a lot of time at the end of our lives just idly waiting around. The friendly new play now on at Portland Stage Company hopes to show that, thankfully, there can be much more to it than that.

“Senior Living,” in its world premiere production, is an upbeat play-with-music that lays great emphasis on both ends of its title. Reminiscent of the work of Maine writer John Cariani, co-authors Tor Hyams and Lisa St. Lou have put together a lively revue suggesting that, despite the challenges of ageing, mature people still have opportunities to sing, dance and love in personally fulfilling ways.

Through a series of warm and often humorous vignettes, the play acquaints us with a total of 19 middle-class characters, mostly in their 60s and 70s, who live or work in and around a senior living facility in New York State.

Directed by stage and screen veteran Judith Ivey, five accomplished, professional actors fill the multiple roles. Their characters bicker, flirt, gossip, evaluate desserts, play golf and prepare their amateur acts for an upcoming talent show, all the while negotiating an uncertain future. Tough subjects like discrimination, divorce and dementia add touches of pathos at times. But the overall tone is positive.

If it all sounds a bit like what happens in many senior-oriented sit-coms, even the incidental music for the show suggests that connection. In fact, a half-hour TV pilot adaptation of “Senior Living” has been created. But the overall upbeat message and in-person dynamics of this theater version might just be what lifted the audience to their feet for an ovation on opening night. The 90-minute show — there is no intermission — makes for a reassuringly good time at the theater.

Grace Bauer and Steve Vinovich in Portland Stage Company’s production of “Senior Living.”

With costumes, wigs, accents and attitudes changing, it’s not always easy to keep up with which actor is inhabiting which role. Information provided on the company’s website’s PlayNotes helps in piecing it all together.


Some standout moments feature Beth Glover and David Wohl as two new friends inching toward the bedroom and Grace Bauer as a funny peacemaker situated between an assertive life-partner, played by Cynthia Barnett, and a defensive psychologist, played by Glover. Steve Vinovich becomes a forgetful comedian as well as an Irishman with very specific tastes.

The expansive two-level set by David Goldstein, with a descending stage-set-within-the-stage for the talent show moments, offers plenty of room for a play that suggests that there are ways to shorten the distances and iron-out the differences between good people of a certain age.

If only COVID hadn’t necessitated the closing of the concessions stand, Portland Stage Company likely would have made a bundle selling the play’s often mentioned treats of cake and rice pudding. In any event, this sweet show goes down easy.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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