Old age in the new age, in ‘Kalamazoo’ at Act II Playhouse

Carla Belver and Jack Hoffman in the Act II Playhouse production of

Carla Belver and Jack Hoffman in the Act II Playhouse production of "Kalamazoo." (Courtesy of Mark Garvin)

I’m hesitant to declare that “Kalamazoo” at Act II Playhouse in Ambler, Pennsylvania is by turns funny, heart-tugging and honeyed because that makes the play sound icky, like 75 unflinching minutes of Hallmark wisdom. It’s anything but. 

It’s the story, brightly told, of two septuagenarians who’ve lost their spouses and are looking to fill out their lives with … well, they’re not exactly sure, except that for her it involves something with someone new and for him, at least a little sex. Age aside, she’s a good Catholic girl, and he’s a nice Jewish boy. Their children have prodded them to get out and find someone to date.

That’s why when the lights come up on director Mary Carpenter’s tight and inviting production, they sit in front of computers to answer questions posed by Silver Foxes Dating Service. The two are cultural opposites – when they meet through the dating service and raise a glass at dinner, he says, “L’chaim!” and she answers, “Gesundheit!” Yet you can see where this is going. Somehow, almost indefinably, they click.

They especially do at Act II, where perfect casting has matched the local stage doyenne Carla Belver and Jack Hoffman, two commanding actors for decades, much of them on Philadelphia stages. The chemistry between them is not, say, Romeo and Juliet. It’s more appropriate for the occasion, like vintage wine and aged cheese. 

When first-date table talk turns to what’s better for a good meal out — milk of magnesia or Zantac — you begin to understand how old-dog wisdom may be able to trump puppy love. Or at least give it a new dimension. The whole thing is lovely to watch and laugh through, and maybe it’ll bring a hint of dew to your eyes. 

These two — they are called Peg and Irv — progress together through quick scenes that take them both to new places. But wherever they are, their beloved late spouses are never far from their minds. There’s a sweet-and-sour tinge to their relationship. (The handsome set design, with a large painted caged bird, is by Dick Durossette and changing wall hangings by Claire Leitner, define different locations.)

“Kalamazoo,” named after the Michigan location of a bird sanctuary Peg has always wanted to see, is skillfully written by actress-writer Michelle Kholos Brooks and Kelly Younger, who often works with Disney. Their play plumbs the idea of aging and overcoming the fear of reinvention —  and in order to do this, the very real references they use might make “Kalamazoo” unsuitable for young audiences. (Now there’s a first: Don’t bring the kids to a sweet play for totally ageist reasons.)

For those of us who are getting up there, or are already up there, there’s a joy in watching two characters — and two bright actors — growing old, with and without grace.

“Kalamazoo” runs through Aug. 4 at Act II Playhouse, 50 E. Butler Ave., Ambler. 215-654-0200 or www.act2.org.  

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