Managing Maxine at the Asolo Repertory Theatre

Contributing Columnist

Granville Van Dusen & Sharon Spelman. CREDIT: Frank Atura

A theater presentation should depict a slice of life, either real life or a life that might be. Managing Maxine is not only a slice of real life, but it is an event of life that happens in Sarasota and around Florida every day. Maxine is a 70-year-old widow, of four years, who is full of life but her enthusiasm for life is frustrated by being alone. She is an author and some-time college professor. Maxine has found a person of interest in a judge, retired and widowed three months. She knew him through reputation and through seeing him, from a distance, in the local social scene. She decides to write him a letter.

She states that in this letter from a stranger she is not trying to sell him siding for his home, clean his carpets, or trying to collect an unpaid bill. Impulsively she invites him to dinner. The appointed time comes and she faces her butterflies, her rash decision, and finally opens the door to breathlessly invite this stranger into her home and her life. There is immediate connection, though cautiously, as they get acquainted.

The story has been set in Sarasota. People will recognize the sign, removed by the current construction, from in front of the Hob Nob Restaurant. They will see them meet in the produce department of the Whole Foods Market. A lot of local flavor has been put into this presentation, which is only right, since this piece is written about a true Sarasota couple (who happened to be in the audience with about 50 of their friends the night we were there).

Granville Van Dusen & Sharon Spelman. CREDIT: Frank Atura

It is real. But Janece Shaffer has created some of the cleverest dialogue, the most humorous situations, one can imagine. The dialogue is hilarious. The actors, from the smallest part to the leads, are awesome, and make the play exciting from beginning to end. Maxine Levine is played by the beautiful and talented Sharon Spelman. It is wonderful to see Sharon on the Asolo stage after a two-year absence. Granville Van Dusen plays Judge Arthur Rinzler as the chosen gentleman, who goes from enthusiasm to wariness as he deals with the effervescent Maxine.

Their dilemma is real. How does one start dating like a 20-year-old after not having to make such a connection for 50 years? And yet, the need for love and companionship is still strong. They are mentally young, with strong feelings and yearnings, even though the years have tempered their physical energy and left them with a lot of baggage — including skeptical children — over which they have to climb. The depth and breadth of their relationship changes until they realize, as do their children, that they have a right to happiness.

Maxine has tried relationships before but has never found anyone who comes close to fulfilling her need for companion ship. As she said, “It is hard to get close to a man whose best quality is that he drives at night.”

Maxine’s daughter, Emme, is having her own relationship problems with her husband. It is not that he has done anything wrong. Emme has convinced herself she has no time for marital “play” because now they have two kids and a mortgage and all the baggage of young parenthood. Emme is very well played by Mackensie Kyle. Jud Williford plays her husband Larry, who is frustrated as he tries to be a good husband but is often the victim of Emme’s personal demons. She walks in on Maxine and Arthur having a drink before dinner and, though she does not have difficulty with her mother’s “dating,” she is surprised to find them together.

Granville Van Dusen & Sharon Spelman. CREDIT: Frank Atura

Ivy, on the other hand (played by Bethany Weise) is not only surprised at her father entertaining a woman in his house, she is appalled that he is showing interest in someone only three months after her mother’s death. Her petulance not only puts a damper on the relationship — it nearly destroys it. Arthur’s best friend and golfing buddy Louis is Howard Elfman. Maxine’s faithful friend, Joanne, is Geraldine Librandi. Both Louis and Joanne are hilarious additions to their lives and to their struggles, and are great support for the two.

Where Ivy is mired in self-pity, Larry finally convinces Emme that, even with kids and a mortgage, they can be in love and act that way. Though, primarily through Ivy’s discomfort, Maxine and Arthur part ways, they find one another again in the produce department of Whole Foods Market.

This is real life. It is real in Sarasota. It describes the struggles of many widowed people — many of them your friends — who find themselves alone, and yet have desires and dreams and a lot of life to live. It is a wonderful play. It brings great joy. And it tells a real story in a very humorous way.

Managing Maxine plays through April 18 in repertory at the Asolo Rep. Call for information and tickets at the Box Office, 941-351-8000.

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