Despite Talmudic teachings about treating the aged with reverence, elderly people are often relegated to the margins of our society. But to playwright Richard Abrons, whose “Every Day a Visitor,” is being revived this month, the last phase of life can be filled with great creativity, energy and vigor. The play opens next Thursday evening for a month-long run at the Clurman Theatre in Midtown, with George Morfogen (from the HBO series “Oz”) leading a nine-member cast.
Directed by Margarett Perry, “Every Day a Visitor” is set in a dilapidated old age home in the Bronx, where a collection of eccentric characters, most of them Jewish, are disheartened by the lack of family and friends coming to see them. They thus take on the personae of famous people like John D. Rockefeller, Fiorello LaGuardia, Bella Abzug, and Henry Kissinger. And they resolve that when one goes into the hospital, he or she should receive a visitor on a daily basis, so that no one will die alone.
Originally presented in 2001 at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre on the Upper West Side, “Every Day a Visitor” was originally directed by Arthur Strimling, whose Roots and Branches program brought together underprivileged children and Jewish senior citizens to create plays based on the seniors’ memories; their best-known production was “Playing Lear” in 2002.
Abrons, 87, is a retired investment banker who has been dubbed “Henry Street’s Godfather” for his donations to the famous settlement house on the Lower East Side. He told The Jewish Week that his “fanciful” play suggests that the elderly are “individuals with personalities, differences and goals.” Despite the disapproval of their children, the group makes its home into what Abrons calls a place of “pleasure, enjoyment and play,” rather than a “waiting room” for death.
Perry has gotten used to working with elderly actors; she just directed an Ithaca production of Tom Stoppard’s “Heroes,” set in the late 1950s, about three World War I veterans in a French military sanatorium. “Every Day” has an unusually large cast, however, and everybody is on stage at once; “rehearsals,” she confided, were “a little like Romper Room at times.”
Nevertheless, Perry finds great emotional depth in the play — “people tugging, poking, and wanting.” While the residents “got stuck in the home by their relatives who no longer want them, they learn to love and support each other. It’s like a really good therapy session for the characters.”
“Every Day a Visitor” opens Nov. 14 and runs through Dec. 14 at the Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 p.m. and Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. For tickets, $56.25, call (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.