by Hugh Hunter
In case you missed “Seniors of the Sahara”, you can meet many of the same characters in “The Witch in 204.” Written by Barbara Pease Weber, it is her fourth play to premiere at Old Academy Players in East Falls and is a sequel to “Seniors.” As in “Seniors,” which previously played at Old Academy, we find ourselves in the same beachfront condo in Margate, New Jersey, a clean and brightly lit place with white wicker chairs and seascapes on the walls.
Once again action swirls around Sylvie (Marcy Hoffman) and Eugene (Nicholas Lutwyche), her genie boyfriend. (Except Eugene is now free of the painful “lumbago” that plagued him in “Seniors,” possibly because he now gets to live entirely outside the cramped quarters of his magic teapot.) As the play opens, Sylvie talks to her old friends. It is Sylvie’s wedding day, but where is lover Eugene? I’ll bet that old witch in apartment 204 of the condo could tell you!
In “Seniors” the focus is squarely on Sylvie and Eugene. They meet in a curious way, fall in love, fight through obstacles to their romance and so forth. But in “Witch” the focus is scattered, and the lovers rarely seem as vital as their frolicsome friends.
Director Christopher Wunder plays up to the zany antics of the friends because their goofy attempts to resolve the wedding crisis is where the action is. The friends include tearful Fanny (Lauri Jacobs), near-sighted and accident-prone Thelma (Ginny Kaufmann), old Viagra-popping Herman (Steve Blumenthal) and a consummate yenta in Mabel (Norma Kider). They want to help Sylvie, but all prove to be comically compromised by their eccentricities.
The tempo of the production picks up further with the entrance of the Witch, Bella (Brianna Trillo). Bella knew Eugene from the spirit world and is desperate to have him. Trillo is wonderfully threatening in the role, a glamorous young blonde woman in a condo full of seniors, and unstinting in her malice. When she stumbles into Evelyn (Loretta Lucy Miller), she mistakes her for Sylvie and tries to poison Evelyn with a drink. Miller reminds me a lot of Lucille Ball in her mimicry of distress, and the comedy in this scene steals the show.
But where are Sylvie and Eugene while all this is going on? Sylvie has left town. The lovers are not seen together until the end of Act Two. And in his plan to whack the witch, Eugene has to give out all sorts of background information (in case you did not see “Sahara”). At that point, storytelling suspense is dead in the water.
In “The Witch in 204”, I loved the comedy and the capers. But all the action takes place on the periphery. Sylvie and Eugene have become minor characters at their own wedding, and the play feels more like a coda than a stand-alone sequel.
Old Academy Players is located at 3540-44 Indian Queen Lane. “The Witch in 204” will run through Oct 2. Reservations available at 215-843-1109.
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