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Theatre in Review: We Have to Hurry (Broadway on Demand)

Kathleen Chalfant and Elliott Gould

It was, I suppose, inevitable. Dorothy Lyman's new play is -- at least, in my experience -- the first COVID romantic comedy. We Have to Hurry is set in Cedar Key, Florida and the potential lovers are Margaret and Gil, senior citizens, sitting out the pandemic in their respective condominiums. Since the action unfolds a little more than a year ago, long before vaccines were available, their contact is entirely verbal. The characters sit on their respective terraces and take part in old-fashioned wooing.

Actually, the wooing is mostly one-way. Margaret, a dairy farmer from upstate New York, is consumed by the sad state of the world and, in the beginning, is focused on caring for the son of her granddaughter, Meg, who is on hiatus from her troubled marriage to an addict. Margaret considers that she already has her hands full and has no time for aging lotharios. Gil -- who once made a fortune, lost it, and made it back again -- has one failed marriage to his credit and is eager to rewrite his romantic legacy. As he keeps pointing out to Margaret, they have no time to waste.

The setup is as old as the characters and if you experience any suspense about the outcome, then you haven't seen too many plays. Indeed, the fun of such a formulaic piece lies experiencing in how characters come together; in this case, the trip isn't too memorable. There is some amusement in their clash of temperaments -- Gil's slightly anxious seize-the-day mentality versus Margaret's pull-your-socks-up pessimism -- and the idea of them suiting with several layers of personal protection equipment for a night of martinis on the beach has a certain charm. Most of the time, however, We Have to Hurry is a mild, predictable piece, conscientious about name-checking most of the world's social ills and rather lazy in its punchlines about phone sex, Freudian psychology, and J. Edgar Hoover's sexual orientation. There's even a discussion of the creative team behind the film Beach Blanket Bingo and its place in the Beach Party cinematic universe. The basic situation in We Have to Hurry couldn't be more up to date; the execution is strictly 1960s.

Under the direction of Patricia Vanstone, the stars give it their all. Kathleen Chalfant, who, affronted, speaks with the authority of the Red Queen calling for another beheading, is, as always, an engaging presence. As a nudgy, superannuated Romeo, Elliott Gould has his work cut out for him, especially given lines like, "I want to jump your bones." But he is a pro, working hard to make plausible his ardor. In the thankless role of Meg, who mostly functions as an unneeded narrator, Jeanne Lauren Smith adds a welcome note of warmth. Josh Liebert's sound design goes a long way toward establishing a South Florida atmosphere.

Although it is clearly intended to be a feel-good experience, it's not clear to me that audiences, weary of the long slog of lockdown, will be keen on revisiting its bleak early days; somehow, the message of finding love in such dire circumstances feels quixotic rather than inspirational. Also, the script's list of Baby Boomer talking points may be of limited interest to anyone under 50. We Have to Hurry was seen in a two-day run over the past weekend, in a pair of fundraisers for The Actors Homes on both coasts, but these things have a way of returning; if so, Lyman's fans from her many television acting roles may want to check it out -- as long as they know what they're getting into. -- David Barbour

(3 May 2021)

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