Raven Theatre Company

Two old men sitting alone on a stage. From Waiting for Godot to The Zoo Story to I’m Not Rappaport, this is a situation made for drama. Max and Charlie, however, have rendezvoused on this winter beach for the purpose of committing a joint suicide. At first Charlie would seem to have every reason to pack it all in. His invalid wife of 34 years no longer recognizes him, his eyesight is failing rapidly, and he can’t even work as a sidewalk Santa Claus anymore. He resents everything–the father who used to beat him, the young lovers on the beach too far away for his dim eyes to see clearly, even the tree under which he sits. “It was probably here a hundred years ago, and it’ll probably be here a hundred years from now,” he says. “Why should a lousy tree outlast a man?” He’s a bundle of complaints–until the soft-spoken Max gradually reveals himself to be a man so lonely that he is driven to seek in death what he misses in life, and Charlie finds himself suddenly arguing for the affirmative.

Any play that opens to the strains of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” is sure to be a tearjerker, and William Hanley’s Whisper Into My Good Ear is no exception. His two old men are given more adorable comedy shtick than the old Muppet Show’s balcony hecklers (“What would you rather be than an old man sitting on a rock?” “A young man sitting on a rock”) and enough wise and significant philosophy to supply Moses and Aaron. Yet even while we are aware our emotional buttons are being pushed, we don’t mind. Much of our enjoyment is due to the skillful direction of Frank Farrell, who seems to make a specialty of this kind of play. This is not to slight the sensitive performances of George Lugg as Max and Everett L. Smith as Charlie. Playing characters who could easily become cartoons, whether of the comic or the tragic variety, both deliver performances of subtlety and restraint, taking their time in allowing us to discover these two small men and to empathize with them. At a time when too many performers confront their audiences with the aggressiveness of subway panhandlers, Farrell, Lugg, and Smith engage our sympathies with a winsome and gentle touch.

The woman sitting next to me was swabbing at her eyes by the final curtain. This play is probably the first of many warm-fuzzy holiday offerings that will make us misanthropic by mid-December. Whisper Into My Good Ear transcends the genre, however. Once a year it’s all right to cry, especially for an exquisite little gift such as this.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jennifer Girard.