Comedy as an antidote for aging

Jennifer Childs’s I Will Not Go Gently’ (2nd review)

3 minute read
Childs: Doing standup at 90? (Photo: Mark Garvin.)
Childs: Doing standup at 90? (Photo: Mark Garvin.)

“Are you ready to rock?” asks aging rocker Sierra Mist — the soda is named for her, she claims — at the start of I Will Not Go Gently, Jennifer Childs’s one-woman romp through the indignities of aging before we’re ready. And indeed, the rising platform gets stuck just as Sierra makes her entrance, so she’s forced to climb awkwardly on stage. It’s a reminder that while our spirits may still be wild and free, life forces us to make uncomfortable compromises.

The stage is peopled with Childs’s characters — Sierra, the dark-haired, leather-clad singer who probably was never as big as she remembers; Abby, an aging fangirl who hosts her own 3 a.m. podcast in which she drinks wine and does yoga to the soundtrack of Sierra’s music; Abby’s tech-savvy daughter, Tabitha, who texts, talks and Googles while doing her homework; and — the highlight of the evening — Abby’s grandmother, doing her first ever standup routine at age 90.

Then there’s Daphne Thundergrass, whose two seasons on TV as Dyna Woman convinced her that she was meant to empower the world if everyone would just stand in power poses, wear a cape, and rename their wardrobe: You don’t put on eyeglasses, Daphne says; you put on your “Visor of Justice.”

Remember Y2K?

All of us deal with aging at different stages of our lives. Childs at 47 asks how to stay relevant while acknowledging that things can’t stay the same. As someone a generation older than Childs who has asked that question at many stages, I’m especially intrigued to see what questions younger women are asking now.

“I don’t do that any more,” say Abby’s classmates at their high school reunion, recalling their wild days. Aging is more than the number of rotations around the sun one has lived; it’s a mindset, and all of Childs’s characters are determined to fight against getting old. They are, to paraphrase the Dylan Thomas’ poem that provides the play’s title, raging at the dying of the light, each in her own way.

Childs provides an outstanding performance, and the laughs keep coming, but the play itself is a bit uneven. By ridiculing trends like power poses and decluttering stuff that doesn’t make you happy, the play risks becoming as outdated as its fading heroines. One running gag refers to Sierra Mist’s failed Y2K concept album. Trouble is, it’s a concept that is so last century, it doesn’t even get a real laugh. Remember when we worried about Y2K? Or are you too young to have even cared?

Never too late

Childs and sound designer/composer Christopher Colucci have taken the gutsy step of creating a down-loadable album of songs written for the show, which includes Sierra’s first recording of the double-entendre’d Jack In My Box and her inevitable anthem, I Will Not Go Gently.

But at the end of the day, what does it mean to age well? The show doesn’t offer any real answers to that question, except to say that it’s never too late as long as you keep trying. Who says you can’t start a career in comedy at age 90?

As for me I’m donning my visor of justice and heading out to face today’s adventure.

To read another review by Steve Cohen, click here.

What, When, Where

I Will Not Go Gently. Written and performed by Jennifer Childs; music by Christopher Colucci with lyrics by Childs; Harriet Power directed. Performed by 1812 Productions through May 15, 2016 at Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey Pl., Philadelphia.

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