‘Not Dead Yet’ is alive and kicking

Reviewed by Lee Shepherd

Just because the Parlor City Players’ “I’m Not Dead Yet” is about cranky old folks in a nursing home, don’t expect a G rating. The play, opening tonight (Thursday, June 17) at the Tri-Cities Opera Center in Binghamton, is definitely R-rated.

At Wednesday’s open final dress rehearsal, the timing needed a bit of tightening and a few lines needed locking in, but the two-act comedy was a rollicking, bumpy, risqué ride with a cast of fine Southern Tier actors. Local playwright Laura Cunningham’s hometown references – Channel 34 news, Robbie’s liquor store and a graduated senior community resembling any one of a half dozen Broome County facilities — delighted the audience.

All the action is staged in the day room of Shady Lawn, an assisted living center in upstate New York. A tip of the hat to Bill Gorman, director; Scott Freeman, producer; Rebekah Baker, stage manager; Karen Kozlowski, set designer, Carolyn Walker, costume designer; Joe Beck, lighting designer, and master carpenter David Ramsay.

So, the premise is this: Belle (Carolyn Christy-Boyden), a highly-sexed, rambunctious woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, and her retired neurosurgeon sister Ethel (Judy McMahon) take on the management of the assisted living facility, personified by the villainous Mr. Michael Michael (Sandy Monachino). He’s determined to sedate the sisters into obedience and a graceful transition into the nursing home and the grave.

They’ve been evicted twice from senior communities, and this is their last resort (although Shady Lawn is hardly anybody’s idea of a resort). The highlight of the week’s activities is an ice cream social. That could only be fun, Belle points out, if they served rum raisin ice cream and held the raisins and cream.

No topic is off limits: erectile dysfunction, male strippers, aging bodies, cross dressing, drooping body parts … all become the butt of jokes.

The irrepressible sisters launch petition campaigns to stock the gift shop with booze, cigars and flavored condoms; they max out their credit cards buying sex toys and lingerie from Victoria’s Secret and share them with other residents; they help residents rewrite their wills and living wills. To make money when their funds are cut off, they launch a phone sex service, Granny Goodtimes. The ring tone on the sex hotline phone? The theme from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, aka “Ode to Joy.”

Christy-Boyden as Belle steals the show, portraying her role so naturally that you can hardly believe she’s delivering lines penned by someone else.
“There’s still a lot of rumba left in these bones. Slow waltzes are so boring,” she says.

The supporting roles of Belle’s daughter Anne (Katherine Bacon) and Shady Lawn residents Madge (Betty Davenport), Dan (William Denman) and Jimmy (Mickey Ray) are also solid and well acted.

As the show rises to a climax (pun intended), Anne, the dastardly daughter who cut off her mother and aunt’s funds, makes a 180-degree turn, standing up for the women’s rights as adults and defending them against another eviction. I won’t reveal how Mr. Michael is brought to heel – that would spoil the surprise.

Interspersed with all the “shtick” are some pretty serious messages: elderly people too often have their rights stripped away by relatives; senior communities defraud the government by charging for individual rehab, while providing group or no rehab; and seniors are too often sedated to make them more manageable. As a society, we expect elderly folks to “act their age” and, above all, not have a sex life.

The gags continue between acts with hilarious running dialogues on the PA system by “voices” Bill Gorman, Rebekah Baker and Janet Normile.

A word of warning: Bring a sweater. The air conditioning in the building is fierce. And don’t drink coffee before you go – only two bathrooms for a potential audience of 150. But do go – the evening is a total delight.

For tickets, call 772-0400 or order online at http://www.tricitiesopera.com. Performances are 8 p.m. June 17-19, 24-26 and 2 p.m. June 27 at the Tri Cities Opera Center, 315 Clinton St., Binghamton.

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