Our society worships youth. Rarely do older people appear in popular culture, and when they do, they are often treated as objects of ridicule.
Enter Peter L. Levy’s play, “Friends,” about two elderly Jewish New Yorkers, each of whom claims the right to a park bench in Central Park. Over time their turf battle morphs into friendship, and then romance. When Levy’s play first ran in San Francisco in 2003, Dan Pine of the Jewish News Weekly of Northern California noted the play’s “uniquely wistful Jewish air.”
Levy escaped Nazi Germany as a child and arrived in California, where he eventually studied creative writing as an undergraduate at Berkeley and then went on to Berkeley Law School. In addition to his career as a litigator, he is a prolific playwright, with four plays that have been performed Off Broadway.
Among his works are “The Jerusalem Syndrome,” about tourists to the Holy Land who become delusional; “Our House,” dealing with homeowners in Germany who find that their houses were forcibly seized from Jews three generations ago; “Troika,” centering on the final two weeks of Tolstoy’s life; and “Obsession,” delving into Austrian painter Oskar Kokoschka’s affair with composer Gustav Mahler’s wife, Alma Mahler. He has also penned prize-winning poetry and short stories.
“Friends” has been compared to D.L. Coburn’s much-decorated 1976 Broadway play, “The Gin Game,” which starred Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, about an elderly couple who meet in a nursing home. Produced and directed by Jerry Donis, “Friends” follows the budding romance between Max Horowitz (Harlan Tuckman), a homeless former crossword puzzle writer, and Ruth Appfelbaum (Judy Spiegel), a homemaker who takes pity on the widower, first sharing her noodle kugel with him and then inviting him to spend a few days in her apartment. As their relationship gradually deepens, the two learn about each other and themselves.
Both Spiegel and Tuckman have had extensive experience playing Jewish roles in regional theaters; Spiegel was nominated for a Perry Award for her performance as Kate in “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” while Tuckman has appeared as Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” Fagin in “Oliver!” and Nat in “I’m Not Rappaport.”
“America is a country geared toward youth,” Levy told The Jewish Week. “All we see are beautiful people with perfect teeth, eyelashes and eyes.” Those past the age of 50 “are not seen to be entitled to romantic life.” As a result, he lamented, “many older people are lonely and yearn for a connection with other people.”
Since writing “Friends,” Levy also completed a play about disgraced financier Bernard Madoff, “The Midas Touch.” Unlike that play, Levy said, “Friends” is about “what it means to be a mensch, to give another person dignity and shelter.”
“Friends” opens Thursday, Oct. 14 at Theater 3, 311 W. 43rd St., 3rd Floor. Performances are Thursday-Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday afternoons at 2 p.m. For tickets, $40, call the box office at (212) 315-9703.