Chat rooms, seniors and modern love in ‘Romance.com’
Senior dating in the digital age is the comically rendered theme of “Romance.com,” a production of the West Coast Jewish Theatre at the Pico Playhouse in West Los Angeles.
As the play opens, Nora (Marcia Rodd) has spent four years mourning the death of her husband and living with her granddaughter, Terry (Olivia Henry), who brings her a computer, hoping it will help Nora get more in touch with the world.
The play, by the late Hindi Brooks, was first performed at Theatre 40 in 2002 and is now being revived by director Howard Teichman, artistic director of West Coast Jewish Theatre, who was drawn to the story by its relevance to how relationships develop today.
“What attracted me was the way that Hindi created this, and the way the technology has developed. Back in the day, you might meet somebody at a social, or you might get invited to meet somebody through a friend. Now it’s through the computer, and so we have J-dating, we have chat rooms — people have these ways of communicating with one another, and she had the idea that even older people can do that.
“Nora’s a grandmother who loves her granddaughter, and the granddaughter is engaged to a man that Nora does not particularly like,” Teichman said. “So, she basically tries to undermine the relationship.”
From left: Olivia Henry, Michael J. Silver, Marcia Rodd, Joseph Michael Harris and Bart Braverman in “Romance.com.” Photo by Michael Lamont
Teichman described the granddaughter’s fiancé, Ira (Joseph Michael Harris), as extremely egotistical. “He’s a big body builder. He owns a gym, and he really is very self-centered, and he’s not very interested in her, other than being in love with love.
“Eventually, she realizes that maybe she should find somebody who’s more interested in her.”
Nora’s journey begins when she decides to give the computer a try, despite her immediate disdain for it. After she comes upon a romance site, she starts an online conversation with someone who calls himself Romeo, so she starts calling herself Juliet. Under the misapprehension that she’s conversing with a young man, she pretends to be her granddaughter.
In reality, the man Nora has contacted is Benny (Bart Braverman), a former mattress salesman who is about her age and who was fired for lying down too much on the job. He connects with women on the Internet from a nearby deli and takes on the persona of a young waiter, Don (Michael J. Silver), who is an aspiring actor.
Benny’s goal, Teichman said, is to find love in a chat room, and, lacking confidence in himself, he keeps lying to women. “He says to them, ‘I like to play sports. I like to tango.’ He’s 70 years old. He can’t do any of these things, but he lies to the women to get them interested in him. And the grandmother gets online, and she starts lying, too.”
Teichman remarked that, underneath the gentle comedy, the play examines some universal issues. “I think the serious themes of the play have to do with growing old, and having to be strapped with the label that we put on older people today that they are not to be included … that they’re no longer an effective person in our society. And I also think that it talks about the sadness that people have about the loss of a loved one, and how do we re-create ourselves so we can be whole again.”
Although the characters are written as Jewish, Teichman views their identities as more cultural than religious. The Theatre’s mission, he said, is to find plays by Jewish writers, but the plays don’t have to have specifically Jewish themes. In fact, Teichman said he believes this show, which is currently being produced in Poland and has been playing in Germany for the past 11 years, has broad appeal.
“My goal,” he said, “will always be to bring an entertainment, an educational outlook and a view of the Jewish experience that can bridge other cultures. I think that, looking at the anti-Semitism that is going on in the world today — and it has really sprung up terribly in Europe and here in the United States — that the only way people will not have that feeling of anti-Semitism is if they understand that we are no different from anybody else. We as a people have the same wants and desires as everyone else does, and I think the more that is put out there — and I do it through the medium of theater — hopefully, people will not look at Jews and say they’re different, because we’re not.”
“Romance.com” is at Pico Playhouse through Nov. 29.