Stepping inside someone else’s skin may be just what Grandpa James and Grandson Chris need to make their respective romantic lives click in Padraic Duffy’s deliciously quirky, often side-splittingly funny, ultimately heartwarming (albeit somewhat over-padded) World Premiere comedy Past Time, now playing at Sacred Fools’ excitingly refurbished digs on Hollywood’s Theatre Row.
James (Leon Russom) and his wife of thirty-plus years Delilah (Ruth Silveira) haven’t been seeing all that much of each other these days (and nights), their den having been taken over by James’s longtime chum Lou (French Stewart), who’s enlisted his friend’s help in hand-painting a few dozen unicorn tchotchkes for the “Unicorns ‘n Things” cart he’s planning to set up smack dab in front of Delilah’s “Candles ‘n Stuff” shop. (That the two enterprises have such similar names seems to rankle James’s wife almost as much as her husband’s emotional and physical absence from their marriage.)
Meanwhile, cute but socially inept 20something Chris (Josh Weber) is having troubles of his own convincing Meredith (Julia Griswold) to forget their first half-dozen or so disastrous dates, go out with him again, and perhaps most importantly, let him know why he can’t yet call her his girlfriend.
Playwright Duffy sets up Past Time as a series of two-character scenes (each announced by a cute projected supertitle) that take up about half of the play’s 90-minute running time before getting to its central premise. (If you don’t happen to know what that is, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs.)
Since James would seem to have more of a way with the ladies than his grandson does, Chris proposes that Grandpa stand in for him on his upcoming date with Meredith, not as 60something James but as Chris, forget that the two men look nothing at all alike. (When James wonders how this can possibly work, Chris reminds him that folks suspend disbelief at the theater all the time, so why not here too?)
Before long, it’s not simply James who’s role-playing … and in the process learning that self-discovery (and self-improvement) may well result from wearing someone else’s shoes.
Under director Jeremy Aldridge’s accustomed deft hand, Past Time is first and foremost a star vehicle for its two leading men, the always superb Russom playing crotchety straight man to the kaleidoscopic Stewart. Admittedly, the duo’s opening scene shtick does end up going on longer than it probably should (just one reason why Past Time doesn’t get down to the nitty-gritty till about halfway through). Still, it’s hard to complain when it’s Stewart doing the scene stealing (and later revealing real depth as we learn more about Lou’s past).
Silveira brings a wry charm to Delilah and never more so than when Duffy’s script allows her to relive her youth Millennial-style. Griswold’s delightfully deadpan Meredith grows as well, taking on new colors as her dates with “Chris” take her in unexpected directions.
As for Past Time’s production design, DeAnne Millais’ colorfully cluttered set makes terrific use of a smartly reconfigured Lillian Theatre. (Gone is the formerly problematic V-shaped seating plan.) Matthew Richter’s vivid lighting, Jaimie Froemming’s idiosyncratic costumes, Dan Hoal’s whimsical sound design enhanced by Zachary Bernstein’s original music, properties designer Lisa Anne Nicolai’s multitude of knickknacks, and Ben Rock’s stylish projections all add up to an absolutely fabulous production design.
Halle Charlton, Laura Gardner, John Moskal, Daniel Ramirez, and Mark Sande are understudies.
Past Time is produced for Sacred Fools by Libby Baker. Jaime Puckett and Vickie Mendoza are associate producers. Ed Goodman is assistant director. Bo Powell is stage manager and Zada Clarke is assistant stage manager. David LM McIntyre is dramaturg. Jesse Bias is assistant costumer.
Abundant laughter and charm (plus enough heart to provoke a tear or two before it’s over), Past Time has them all. A bit of trimming/editing could make it even better, but even as things stand, the latest from Sacred Fools Theater Company offers L.A. audiences a delectable winter treat.
Lillian Theatre, 6322 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood.
February 19, 2016
Photos: Jessica Sherman Photography