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A CurtainUp Connecticut Review
Lois Smith plays Lil, a spunky, fun and young-at-heart woman planning her long-awaited singing debut for her grand 90th birthday party. To help her plan it are her type-A, organizer daughter Stephanie (Kristine Nielsen), her musician grandson Tommy (Nick Blaemire) and his reluctant musician girlfriend Deirdre (Lucy Waters). And her husband Charlie (David Margulies) has a big surprise planned.
For most of the first act, we're drawn in to this quirky but fun family with characters well defined and expertly personified by Smith and Margulies. Director Jo Bonney cast the leads well, but Neilsen appears too young to have a 90-year-old mother (just how old was Lil when she was born?). When these folks sit around the living room (part of the three-room New York apartment set complete with hallways craftily designed by Frank L. Alberino), singing "Crazy Love," you want to pull up a chair and join them.
Charlie, in particular, is delightful. He's just the kind of loving, joking, chocolate-milk-drinking father or grandfather you had or wish you had. Then, just before intermission, Charlie's mystery is revealed and with it, the climax of the play. The rest of the action seems to be a scramble to give the characters something to say and do to create a second act.
I won't give away details here, because they would reveal Charlie's secret (and he only gets to keep it for such a little while as it is . . .). What I can tell you: Charlie continues to put the family in danger despite warnings . . . Lil takes action to protect the family, but fails miserably. . . Tommy laughably blows a chance to take out the threat to the family. . .Deirdre, left to babysit Charlie and make sure he doesn't have contact with anyone, hands him a phone. Are people really this dumb?
As for Stephanie (played way too over the top by Nielsen), she's still planning the party, the continuation of which seems ridiculous in the face of what's happening to the family.
There's also the party itself, with its seemingly non-ending sets of Lil's singing badly. Eventually, as though your eyes finally can see again after having been blinded by the flash of the implosion you've been witnessing on stage since the end of act one, there are the last few minutes of the play: loving, sweet and heart-warming. If Picoult could have just put them on the end of act one, she would have had a terrifically moving, albeit short play.