Nearly everyone has asked themselves at one point in their lives, “What if?”
What if you skipped college and instead traveled the world? What if you turned right instead of left? What if you pursued a romantic relationship with this person instead of that person?
Limelight presented by South Valley Civic Theatre will explore that latter question when it brings A.R. Gurney’s “Later Life” to the stage, opening Jan. 20 at the Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St. The production runs Fridays through Sundays through Feb. 12.
“I think we all wonder what might have happened if we had made a different decision early on in our lives,” said Jim McCann, who performs as Austin in the production.
“Later Life” follows Austin, who one night at a party rekindles a romance with Ruth almost 30 years later. Mutual friends view Austin as multiple divorcee Ruth’s final shot at a normal life, while they also hope Ruth will break Austin from his cycle of depression, according to a description of the production.
Director Bill Tindall said he was drawn to the script due to its character-driven nature.
“The two leads play confused and sometimes contradictory people who have learned few lessons from their experiences but rather persist in their failings,” he said. “We see plainly that life is not black and white but many shades of grey.”
Being a Limelight production, the cast consists of only four: Jim McCain as Austin, Sandi Lewandowski as Ruth, and Roberta Vinkhuyzen and Bruce Pember, who each portray multiple different characters.
What makes “Later Life” challenging, but fun to explore, Tindall noted, is emotions, not heavy dialogue, move the story forward, making for a great deal of interpretation for both the audience and the cast and crew.
“I started with four very strong actors and in our first conversations about the script we discussed the ambiguity of some of the characters,” he said. “We all understood that we would need to explore together the dialogue and the emotions we would get from it to find the soul of those characters.”
Lewandowski said to make her character relatable to the audience, she asked herself two questions:
“How would a 50-something-year-old recently single woman feel if she were suddenly given the opportunity to possibly rekindle an old ‘near romance’ that occurred decades before? How might one behave?”
She added that Gurney’s writing has the feel of a modern bittersweet comedy, but takes many elements found in a classical Greek play.
“If audiences pay attention, they will often hear the same phrases being said by the different characters but in different contexts with different meanings,” Lewandowski said. “Like Greek theater, we have a hero (Austin) and various players being brought into his story to help him try and break his stasis.”
The story of “Later Life” lends itself nicely to a small cast and stage, which is beneficial to both the audience and the cast, McCain said.
“It allows the actors, and I think the audience as well, to experience the energy between the characters in a visceral way, like they are eavesdropping on conversations,” he said. “You can really feel it when the audience is engaged, and you can ride that energy and play with it.”
“Later Life” opens Jan. 20 at the Gilroy Center for the Arts, 7341 Monterey St. The production runs Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm through Feb. 12. For tickets, visit svct.org/2023_laterlife.