Lois Markle and Rosemary Prinz
in She's of a Certain Age
(© Ben Hider)
Lois Markle and Rosemary Prinz
in She's of a Certain Age
(© Ben Hider)
"Writing exercise" is written all over Susan Charlotte's overly schematic and ultimately tedious quartet of linked playlets, She's of a Certain Age, now being presented by Cause Celbre at Theatre Row's Beckett Theatre.

The work is directed smoothly enough by Antony Marsellis and Christopher Hart, but the production never overcomes a nagging sense of a disease-of-the-month agenda -- an effect compounded by Charlotte's apparent fondness for gimmicky dramaturgy.

Minutes into the first scene, set at a familial cocktail party in a stylish Manhattan apartment (perfectly designed by James Wolk), there's no mistaking that something is seriously amiss with Sylvia (Rosemary Prinz), a nattering senior who rattles off her life history to a supposed stranger, Dottie (Lois Markle), who can barely get a word in edgewise.

The play then flashes back half a year, to Independence Day, and we see the two women on more equal footing, complimenting each other (albeit expositorily) on their respective accomplishments as a dress designer and interior decorator. Dottie is harboring a disturbing, yet unsurprising secret, and Sylvia -- at this point still cogent -- frets that her 40-year-old daughter, Julia, has yet to settle down, preferring to trail after her latest love, a world-famous violinist.

It's the third scene, leaping ahead to Valentine's Day, that's most annoyingly stylized. After an offstage bout of break-up sex, Julia (Drena De Niro, affecting a New Yawk accent to rival Penny Marshall's) treats her paramour, Jim (hard-working Robert Newman), to a laundry list of grievances, with a whole lot of personal history thrown in.

Julia's rant, at least as De Niro delivers it, is one long, undifferentiated whine. Jim, for his part, is limited to a single phrase, "Come on," which he interjects, maddeningly, 42 times, with all the subtle variations that Newman can manage to muster. After just a few iterations of this verbal gridlock, you too may find yourself silently screaming, "Come on!" And while the closing scene ought to provide some sort of payoff, the final twist can be seen a mile off.

The real tragedy of this lackluster production is that it wastes Markle's unmistakable talent, which somehow shines through the hackneyed material and every last authorial machination.