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Mid-Life 2 at Actors' Playhouse Preaches to the Aging Choir

There's likely no nicer stage on which to present a play than the Balcony Theatre at the Actors' Playhouse on Miracle Mile. It purveys a sense of both intimacy and expanse, thanks to ample seating and a stage that allows for any number of up-close possibilities. It's also been home to some of the liveliest and most topical productions Actors' Playhouse has ever offered, among them, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, Menopause the Musical, and Rated P for Parenthood. Granted, we're not talking weighty artistic fare here, or any abundance of gravitas or philosophical reflection. But if all you're after is a few easy laughs, combined with a little mirth and merriment, then this is your place to be.

The latest offering in that upstairs venue is the world premiere of Mid-Life 2! (The Crisis Continues), a sequel of sorts to the first Mid-Life musical the theater staged some six years ago. This time around, Actors' Playhouse is taking an active role in developing the show for further stagings around the nation, including, hopefully, an eventual Off Broadway run. Acting as a producing partner is a significant development for any regional theater, particularly Actors' Playhouse, which has currently assumed the mantle of a major player over the last ten years.

Consequently, Mid-Life 2 could be considered a work in progress, a fact evident by some long lapses in the punchlines and the barebones musical accompaniment supplied by the Playhouse's ever-reliable musical director David Nagy. The premise is somewhat predictable. Like most of the entries that grace the balcony stage, it deals with everyday maladies that inevitably accompany aging, themes all too common to all those productions previously mentioned. People of a certain age apparently like to laugh at themselves, especially when they can relate to the scenarios that ultimately unfold.

All too predictably then, the audience is treated to songs and skits about forgetfulness, the discovery of skin tags, the need for Viagra, senior discounts, and the general difficulties and irritations of dealing with an ever increasing assault of physical and mental maladies. It makes for easy laughs, of course, as presumably the audience finds topics with which they can relate, and then chuckle or snicker accordingly. Older folks are often an easy target, and any tune about losing hair only to have it suddenly turn up in their ears, or a song that laments an onset of memory loss, particularly when it's sung by someone who's looking for a pair of glasses that are perched upon his brow, makes for a good gag for the grandparents. But when the main prerequisite for the six person cast is the ability to act muddled and befuddled, the overriding theme is hammered in at the outset.

It's a credit to the cast -- Allan Baker, Maribeth Graham, Margot Moreland, Lourelene Snedeker, Wayne Steadman, and Barry J. Tarallo -- as well as director David Arisco, a master of blending schtick and slapstick, that the material works as well as it does. Each of the actors are fine singers and clearly capable of the mugging and mimicry that the musical requires. Baker is particularly effective, and in coming across like a curmudgeonly version of Jay Leno, he practically steals every scene he's in. Watching him and Tarallo twitter nervously about the unfortunate after-effects of performance enhancing medications is, in itself, practically worth the cost of admission. It's a guilty pleasure, but a hoot nevertheless.

Other scenes come across like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches that initially seem inspired, but then fizzle for lack of a good punchline. A skit about ambient noise is exaggerated but still fun, up until it runs out of steam. Likewise, some maudlin moments, as when Stedman and Snedeker revisit the old neighborhood, then reminisce and lament the passage of time, are clearly meant to manipulate the audience's emotions, given the fact that the audience is of the age where far-off memories are more meaningful than ever. Then, just when you're reaching for the hankies, the song that follows suggests we should forget that time's running short and instead celebrate the fact that regardless of the infirmities the actors have been grousing about throughout the show, we can all still feel like spry twenty-somethings. It simply seems an odd juxtaposition, and somewhat manipulative as well.

The most inexplicable element in Mid-Life 2 has more to do with the fact that all the senior moments it addresses seem more suited to, well, seniors, rather than the early 40- and mid 50-somethings the actors portray here. Yes, that's the definition of middle age, and perhaps it's more politically correct a target than the always all-too-vulnerable senior set. Still, the sometimes tepid response from the crowd could be due to the fact that most of those in attendance were far older than the characters. Who could blame someone in their 60s or 70s for coming away depressed? If folks are afflicted so substantially at that age, one can only imagine how the failings they have to contend with 20 or 30 years later. And let's not forget the fact that middle age extends further now because we're all living longer.

Nevertheless, this isn't the kind of show that demands one over-think it, with its reliance on sight gags and tipsy pop tunes. It's cute, nothing more and nothing less. There's no amazingly incisive insight here, but then, none is demanded. Given that the bar has been set fairly low, that seems to suffice.

Actors' Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables presents Mid-Life 2! (The Crisis Continues) plays Wednesdays - Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. through August 17. For tickets, call 305-444-9293.

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