Love Late in Life in “On Cedar Street”
There is much to love in the World Premiere of “On Cedar Street,” playing at the Unicorn Theatre, maybe too much to love, but more on that later. The musical is an adaptation of a book by Emily Mann, “Our Souls at Night,” by Kent Haruf, with music by the late Lucy Simon and Carmel Dean and lyrics by Susan Birkenhead. It’s directed by Broadway veteran Susan H. Schulman, with music directed by Kristin Stowell, and choreography and assistant direction by Terry Berliner.
The set (designed by Reid Thompson and lit by Alan C. Edwards) that greets you is a homespun, comfy, rustic mélange of quilted bedspreads, rough-hewn wood, and pressed tin. There are different levels and a pair of platforms, with the band placed upstage center in the loft behind the stage. The cast enters on the striking of a match to light the ever-present cigar of Lenny Wolpe’s Lloyd Beckman, while Lana Gordon as Councilperson Ruth Clark will soon be entering with an armful of “No Smoking” signs. So, before you think the Colorado country setting and folksy guitar and cello by Jason Ennis and Annabelle Hoffman, respectively, promise only homespun pleasures, know that there is a conflict coming.
There is a horrific drought being experienced by the community, so there’s more than second-hand smoke and foul odors to worry about from Lloyd’s cigars. There’s the smoldering ash that could ignite the surrounding woods. In this dry and hot season, our heroine Addie Moore, played with intentional decency and grace by Lauren Ward, is having trouble with her “Sleep” as she sings amusingly in the opening number. She approaches a fellow senior, the ruggedly handsome Louis Waters, played with an easy charm by Stephen Bogardus, who, like Addie, has also lost his life partner years ago, and asks him if he will platonically sleep with her for companionship. She hits the jackpot with Louis finding a 60-year-old man who is open to non-sexual cuddling, able to duet while accompanying on guitar, and they make the most attractive pair of seniors seen in a long while.
As promised by the prologue, Lloyd and Ruth get into it, with Lloyd hitting many MAGA points with “Freedom” and Ruth taking to the podium with “Wake Up People!” The sides are stark indeed.
Also in the play are Addie’s son Gene (tremulously played by Ben Rosenberry), who needs Addie to watch after his son Jamie (adorable Hayden Hoffman) after his wife has left him. Gene is deeply troubled by current debt and a failing marriage, but he also carries a terrible burden of guilt over his sister’s death in a car accident in childhood. She is played by C. Wild Handel and is ever present onstage and is frequently seen doing the scene changes and crossing through scenes. Gene has a major problem with Louis because of an affair Louis had when his wife was dying decades ago. Shockingly, he objects to his mother’s relationship with Louis on the grounds of this ancient dalliance which had nothing to do with him.
Lloyd also has a son, Russell (Dan Teixeira), who must give up his dog which is eagerly adopted by Jamie and named Charlie. There’s a fun song between Louis and Jamie celebrating “Dog.” The dog is named Addison, who steals every scene she’s in and is trained by Bill Berloni after he found her in a high kill shelter and has already completed a National Tour of “Annie.” She would be well worth catching on the next tour.
There are many pleasant tunes, and the evening is lovely as each scene moves easily as the cast moves the ingenious set, creating new spaces with the rolling of a platform and sliding of floor-to-ceiling thin panels which act as walls, doors or trees. There’s the fun in the discovery of new love late in life; there are children, baseball, a dog, a progressive politician, delicious biscuits… what’s not to love? Certainly, the sold-out house that leaped to their feet at the close of the show was charmed by the show.
Unfortunately, the son who is carrying a childhood trauma that is somehow meant to explain his deep troubles, the MAGA neighbor who won’t give up his guns and talks about exiling those who don’t agree with him, and the raging forest fire that threatens to consume the community at the musical’s end are all far too thorny and urgent to be solved in one intermissionless evening, no matter how lovely the romance.
The Berkshire Theatre Group is presenting “On Cedar Street” at The Unicorn Theatre through 9/2. Tickets: www.BerkshireTheatreGroup.org or 413-997-4444