Playwright Laura Brienza’s path was filled with landmines in writing her play “Old Love New Love,” which is currently at Luna Stage in West Orange, in its world premiere.
The central conflict involves a 75-year-old with Alzheimer’s disease who has fallen in love with a fellow patient in the senior facility where he lives. He doesn’t want to cheat on his 65-year-old wife, whom he still loves, and who is still living at their home. He’s just not fully of aware what he’s doing. And his wife isn’t sure if she should be furious, or if she should support his new relationship just because it is making him happy.
What I mean by “landmines” is: It would have been very easy for Brienza to succumb to cloying sentimentality — or, worse, cloying cuteness. But she gets the tone just write. There is a sweetness to this play, and lots of humorous moments, but Brienza never goes over the top, keeping the tone dry and clear-eyed enough to make her story grounded in reality and, ultimately, quite moving.
The play start out with Gloria (played by Kim Zimmer) finding out that her husband Colin (Thom Molyneaux) seems to have fallen for someone else. As she tries to figure out what to do about this, the marriage of her daughter Michelle (Claire McClanahan) and son-in-law Matt (Christopher Halladay) goes through a parallel crisis. Danny (Alfred Gingold), the nice-guy husband of Colin’s new girlfriend Lane (Jane Mandel), seeks out Gloria, to talk things over. Mia (Ava Eisenson), an aide at the facility, becomes involved in the family drama as well.
I’ve never seen a play about infidelity where everyone was so civil to each other, but I guess that’s the point. Gloria and Danny still adore Colin and Lane, respectively; their marriages were good for decades. And Colin and Lane are innocents, just trying to get through the day in a confused state.
Even in the Michelle/Matt story line, while it’s clear that he’s at fault, he’s not sketched entirely unsympathetically, and Michelle faces a truly hard decision about the marriage’s future.
Two of the most memorable scenes belong to Colin and Lane: Colin, when we catch a glimpse of the former music teacher joyfully playing air guitar, and former surgeon Lane, when she has an unexpected outburst of anguish over her struggle with Alzheimer’s. Mandel conveys the volatility of Lane’s emotions so powerfully that it’s hard to watch.
There are no easy answers in “Old Love New Love”; things get messy, and stay messy. Even individual scenes often end before you really expect them to, with conflicts unresolved, boiling points not quite reached, and questions still hanging in the air. Just like they do in real life.
“Old Love New Love” is at Luna Stage through May 8; visit lunastage.org.