Being old is no kindergarten

When the Angel of Death comes a-knocking, 87-year-old Gladys starts a-balking in the next Central Alberta Theatre comedy.

When the Angel of Death comes a-knocking, 87-year-old Gladys starts a-balking in the next Central Alberta Theatre comedy.

“He says, ‘It’s time to go.’ She says, ‘Why on earth would I want to go? I’m fine!’ said Erna Soderberg, who’s directing Gladys in Wonderland by U.S. playwright Rosemary Frisino Toohey.

Death doesn’t think Gladys is fine, however — and neither do Gladys’s relatives. They worry about her occasional mental lapses and other eccentricities — like eating cream doughnuts for breakfast.

“You get up one day, eat a doughnut, read the paper, and some clown in a Good Humor suit says you’re going to die,” says Gladys in this dinner theatre production that starts Jan. 15, at the Quality Inn North Hill.

Soderberg thinks the irreverent script is “hilarious” — because it’s true to life.

Younger people don’t really understand the elderly, said Soderberg. This is shown through well-meaning, but misguided characters in the play — such as Gladys’s overbearing daughter, Doris, who orders her nutritious Meals on Wheels when her mother prefers desserts.

There’s also Gladys’s niece, who presents her with fabric scraps on the assumption all old ladies like to quilt. Not Gladys, as it turns out. But the niece thinks she knows best and “talks to her so exaggeratedly and loudly,” said Soderberg. It’s as if she’s speaking to a slow child instead of someone who’s raised her own family.

Soderberg, a senior herself, thinks mistaken presumptions are often made by people who don’t realize older folks feel much the same as they did at any age. “We don’t change inside that much from when we’re 12, or 30 or 50…”

Besides serving up laughs, she thinks Gladys in Wonderland, first produced in 1999 as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival, will make audience members question their own beliefs about aging.

“My favourite part is when Gladys meets these two nursing home women who are just sitting there, staring out into space.” It’s revealed the two are zoning out on purpose. If they begin looking too lucid, they fear a nursing home attendant will come by with craft supplies. “They make you make things out of cardboard, glitter and crap,” said Soderberg — as if seniors have time travelled back to kindergarten.

“There’s even a line where they call nursing home therapists ‘kindergarten teachers with bad knees.’”

Among the 10-actor CAT cast and crew is an 86-year-old woman. After watching a certain scene, she remarked “that’s exactly how my daughter talks to me!” said Soderberg. The irony is this senior is still capable of regularly playing tennis.

Tickets to the 6 p.m. dinner theatre are $65 from the Black Knight Ticket Centre. Show starts at 7:30 p.m. (Sunday brunches are at noon, with the show at 1:30 p.m.)

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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