Married 60something fuddy-duddies meet a free-spirited couple of fellow retirees to life-changing effect in Dan Lee’s hilarious, heartwarming World Premiere comedy Grey Nomad, the latest from L.A.’s Australian Theatre Company.

The very last people Jim (David Ross Paterson) wants to have spoil his post-retirement caravanning across Western Australia with Helen (Ros Gentle), his wife of forty years, are Tim and Val (Paul Tassone and Wendy Hammers), but the more freewheeling 50somethings would appear to have followed Jim and Helen to Broome, the seaside town where the older couple had planned to do nothing more than park their RV and enjoy the surf and sand in peace and quiet.

“They’re going to try and make friends with us!” Jim exclaims, which is why, should the frequently nude couple show up, he and Helen should be brief but polite, stick to pleasantries, and hope they’ll just go away, full-body tans and all.

No such luck.

“Tarzan” and “Jane” do indeed arrive, and though Jim makes excuses, Aussie Tim and his American missus are not the sort of folks to take no for an answer. Like it or not, there will be dinner for four on Friday.

If there’s anyone in the Skylight Theatre audience who can’t predict that some beautiful if improbable friendships are about to be born, they haven’t seen Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple or any of its imitators, though in the case of Grey Nomad, what playwright Lee has given us is a couple of odd couples, thereby doubling both our pleasure and our fun.

Jim and Helen may have left a couple of adult children behind in the city, but their married-with-kids daughter (who might just be on the verge of a breakup) and their still single slacker of a son (who’d better not be given a house key or he’ll be back under their roof for another eighteen months) are never far from their hearts or minds.

Tim and Val, on the other hand, have only each other and their world-galavanting lives to show for themselves, a devil-may-care joie de vivre that sets their straighter-laced fellow caravanners to wondering if they might just have been missing something these past forty years.

Playwright Lee delights in poking fun at the older couple’s inability to master a smart phone. (When Jim is at a loss as to whose fingerprint the phone’s scanner will recognize, his wife tells him to just ask Siri, “the voice of the phone.”)

Lee pokes just as much fun at Tim and Val’s hippy-dippy ways (the latter’s pretentiousness where yoga is concerned, the latter’s eagerness enter a local wet tee-shirt contest), and because all but Val are Australian, the playwright gets to rhyme “adventure” with “dementia,” not once but twice.

All of this adds up to a play that feels both original and familiar, and with director Iain Sinclair eliciting four of the most delectable performances you’ll see any time soon, from Paterson’s stick-in-the-mud curmudgeon to Hammers’ unstoppable force of nature to Tassone’s life-devouring torso-flaunter and above all to the remarkable Gentle, whose transformation from caterpillar to butterfly is a joy to behold.

A dream production design team of L.A.’s absolute finest makes Grey Nomad look as gorgeous as any 99-seat production you’ll see all year. Se Oh’s exquisitely simple set looks as if it could just as easily house a trendy art gallery’s opening night, that is until master lighting designer Jared A. Sayeg transforms it into every beach paradise you’ve ever dreamed of, with costume designer Kate Bergh’s outfits complementing Sayeg’s rainbow palette of ocean skies to perfection. Cricket S. Myer’s accomplished sound design completes a stunning mix.

Grey Nomad is produced by Jackie Diamond, Nick Hardcastle, Nate Jones, and Joshua Thorburn. Niki Armato is production stage manager and Garrett Crouch is assistant stage manager.

From Australian Theatre Company’s 2014 debut with their gut-punching Holding The Man to last summer’s dynamic double feature of Speaking In Tongues and Reuben Guthrie, these Aussies in L.A. have made for some of the best theater in town. Grey Nomad, their first original work, has them batting four for four.

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Skylight Theatre, 1816 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles.

–Steven Stanley
September 11, 2017
Photos: Adrian Wlodarczyk


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