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Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Mary Shen Barnidge

Playwright: Tommy Lee Johnston. At: Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr Ave. Tickets: 773-728-7529; Article Link Here ; $30-$35. Runs through: Aug. 24

At first glance, we think we've stumbled upon a sitcom. The setting is a retirement home's "day room," where a few of the residents gather in the evening to socialize before bedtime. Since the title of the play is Geezers, we anticipate a light-hearted comedy of geriatric hijinks and toilet jokes.

We are wrong. The occupants may adhere to Hollywood stereotypes—chirpy Kate attempts to organize community activities, gruff Neil complains about the plumbing, doddering Emily sings along with television commercials and Ray naps in his chair—but little by little, author Tommy Lee Johnston hints at secrets to pique our curiosity: Did the orderly who was fired for having sex with Kate commit criminal assault, or was he seduced? Who is the fiftyish stranger seeking to reunite with the dementia-fogged Emily? Why does the self-sufficient Neil choose to live in a group facility instead of with his family? What makes Ray cling to his lounger-pillow? For that matter, why does nurse Gina cry every night after her shift?

You can't resolve dramatic questions without somebody to ask them, so Johnston introduces Jack—who gives his age as 27, but reads much younger, having been raised to be his deaf mother's caretaker, interpreter and companion in her silent world. More fluent at sign language than spoken words, he is initially confused by the surrounding flurry of verbal activity. When Kate learns that Jack aspires to a literary career, however, the former actress offers up his elderly charges as fodder for inspiration. As the timid Jack listens to their youthful incarnations relate experiences that shaped them into the adults they became, he comes to share in their adventures, himself growing in courage and maturity.

Johnston has accomplished the rare feat of crafting a tidily sentimental narrative that cleverly skirts our expectations to forge a cliché-free collection of payoffs engendering surprise, but never shock. Under Jan Ellen Graves' direction, an ensemble anchored by Brian Parry, Donna Steele and Jacqueline Grandt as the nurturing mentors to Aaron Kirby's orphaned scribbler, embrace their roles with unaffected warmth and enthusiasm. Whatever precepts freed Johnston from the lure of fashionable tropes to endow him with the confidence to elevate this world-premiere play above the conventional formulas should be included on the syllabus of playwrighting workshops throughout this country.

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