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Theater Review: “Herland”

“Herland” plays through February 17, 2019 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.
Photo credit:
Darren Scott

Let’s face it, getting old is a bitch. And the thought of what comes after that – the move to a “place” for old people -- is even more repulsive to many.

Grace McLeod’s play “Herland” (playing through Feb. 17 at Moxie Theatre) introduces us to three septuagenarian women who have decided to create their own retirement community rather than take a chance on being subjected (probably against their will) to someone else’s. Moxie’s artistic director Jennifer Eve Thorn directs.

Jean (Rhona Gold) seems to be spearheading the project. She is a friendly sort, interested in everything and everyone. Jean is contributing the house – the one she shared with ex-husband Bob and son Derek – and has advertised for an “intern” to help her set it up for the trio.

The play takes place in the garage, of special significance because Jean was banned from the place during her marriage. Her husband commandeered the space as rehearsal room for the Springsteen cover band he played with. She now considers it her “office.”

Jean’s friend Louise (Jill Drexler) is a gabby social whirlwind known as “the local gossip.” She has a quip for every occasion. She never married.

Lesbian Terry (Loie Gail) is much quieter and more reserved than the others. Married at 22, she came out only after her husband died. These three are trying to figure out their next steps in life.

Meanwhile, 18-year-old Natalie (Christine Cervas Nathanson) – the intern applicant – shows up. She is just out of high school and headed for the University of Michigan.

She, too, is waiting for the next stage in her life to begin, and wondering whom to tell (and when) that she is lesbian. The kid has written an impressive resume. Even better, she’s willing to work for nothing. (Though I find it unlikely that any almost-college student isn’t out looking for paying work to help with those college expenses, let it go.

It helps if you’re a Springsteen fan. In one scene, Natalie has an awkward near-assignation with Becca (Meg Stoll Tron), who is unimpressed with the huge number of Springsteen albums she sees by the record player. You’ll hear “Born to Run” more than once.

Jean hires Natalie on the spot and they start making lists (who needs what, who will sleep in which room, that sort of thing).

The play’s title is a reference to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1915 utopian novel about a society peopled entirely by women.

The cross-generational cast offers opportunities for both humor and wisdom; McLeod takes full advantage of both. Though some of the jokes struck me as sitcom-like and the characters a bit stereotypical, their interactions come across as genuine.

The cast is excellent. Rhona Gold makes a welcome return to Moxie as Jean, the earth mother who doesn’t want to leave her home.

Jill Drexler’s snarky, demanding Louise is fun to watch. Loie Gail’s Terry may at first seem out of place with this voluble pair, but she’s a key element.

Nathanson’s Natalie is the most authentic of the group, navigating both age and needs differences while trying to be true to herself as well.

Some scenes are a bit overlong, and one played in blackout is just confusing, but the play has moments of real communication.

McLeod is the youngest playwright to receive a rolling world premiere from the National New Play Network. From Moxie, “Herland” goes to Chicago and then New York. McLeod is off to a good start.

The details

“Herland” plays through February 17, 2019 at Moxie Theatre, 6663 El Cajon Blvd.

Thursday at 7:30 pm; Friday and Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm.

Tickets: (858) 598-7620 or www.moxietheatre.com