The blithe “Young at Heart” is playing on the car radio, but the scene being played out to its strains is pretty grim.
Holly (Patricia Randell) is driving her 80-something parents Blossom (Emily Jon Mitchel) and Len (Peter Levine) home from a doctor’s appointment, and it quickly becomes clear that they’re not the easiest people to be around. The stubborn Len is hard of hearing but isn’t wearing his hearing aids, so Holly has to yell when she talks to him. Blossom is sweet, and tries to be helpful, but doesn’t seem to have much short-term memory.
“In the Car With Blossom and Len,” a new one-act play that will be presented by the Centenary Stage Company at the Sitnik Theatre in Hackettstown through March 8, unfolds in further car scenes (basically, chairs and a steering wheel), and in Len and Blossom’s home (which has a convincingly comfortable, lived-in look, though things are starting to get pretty chaotic inside its walls). We learn that Len’s hearing and Blossom’s memory aren’t the only challenges this family faces. Len’s business is in serious trouble, and his bills are piling up; Blossom is addicted to shopping.
Holly’s sister Fern (Kathleen M. Darcy), a successful lawyer, tries to help out, to Holly’s great annoyance. Holly, who once dreamed of becoming writer but settled for being a transcriber, has always been there for her parents, and now Fern wants to swoop in and make everything right. Fern hires a social worker, Susan (Maria Brodeur), to try to help her parents cope, but Len, predictably, resists. As Holly and Fern squabble, Len and Blossom seem headed to financial ruin.
Still, “In the Car With Blossom and Len” isn’t really about Blossom and Len, and their troubles. It’s mainly about Holly, and the sometimes painful, sometimes liberating steps she has to take toward finally taking control of her life, in middle age, and not just being her parents’ caretaker.
Written by Joni Fritz and directed by Lynne Taylor-Corbett, “In the Car with Blossom and Len” was featured in the Centenary Stage Company’s Women Playwrights Series last spring, and won the Susan Glaspell Award for best new play. It’s a comedy, though it’s pretty horrifying when dealing with the state of denial that Len and Blossom are living in: This isn’t an endearing quirk, but something that poses a real threat to them. Holly and Fern are shocked when they discover what’s really been going on with Len and Blossom for decades, and so is the audience (though there are plenty of laughs, along the way, at the absurdity of it all).
The ending is bittersweet. This being a comedy, everything does work itself out, more or less — maybe a little too easily, given the monumental problems in these characters’ lives. But along the way, we’ve spent some time with some very real, albeit frustrating, people.
“In the Car With Blossom and Len” will be presented at the Sitnik Theatre at the Lackland Center at Centenary College in Hackettstown, Feb. 25-28 and March 1 and 4-8. For information, click here.