HALF LIFE by John Mighton, directed by Daniel Brooks, with Laura de Carteret, Barbara Gordon, Carolyn Hetherington, Maggie Huculak, Randy Hughson, Diego Matamoros and Eric Peterson. Presented by Tarragon and Necessary Angel at the Tarragon Mainspace (30 Bridgman). Previews to February 27, opens March 1 and runs to April 3, Tuesday-Saturday 8 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday (except February 26) 2:30 pm. $27-$33, Sunday pwyc-$15, previews $17, stu/srs $18-$27. 416-531-1827. Rating: NNNNN
Good thing that cupid's blind when he shoots those arrows. That way love isn't limited to the young.
If you need proof of the power of love to invigorate every human being, regardless of age, just check out Clara and Patrick, the two central figures in Half Life. Eightysomething residents of a seniors' home, they prove the heart and soul of John Mighton's new play.
Not everyone around them, though, appreciates the growing emotional and physical relationship between the pair. Their kids - Clara's son Donald and Patrick's daughter Anna - have mixed feelings.
It's a relationship that might have started back in the 40s, when Clara spent an intense week with a man named Patrick. And that's one of the things that Mighton (Scientific Americans, Possible Worlds) keeps us guessing about - have these two seniors met before?
"I think of it as a Romeo and Juliet story in reverse," says Eric Peterson, who plays Patrick. "It's ambiguous whether this Patrick is the guy that Clara remembers, but there's no question that the two of them fall in love.
"What's wonderful about this piece is that it shows that love can flourish in the last few seconds of your life. If there really is a fountain of youth, one of the main ingredients in its waters is love."
"It's absolutely clear that the Patrick memory is huge for Clara," offers Carolyn Hetherington, who plays the Alzheimer's-affected woman. "She's thrilled and stimulated to find him. In fact," says the actor, breaking into a big smile and looking warmly at Peterson, "she's more fully into life than she's been in years.
"What John's exploring here is how much a person's identity depends on memory. What shines through, he asks, when memory fades? What part of the soul is still there?"
This love story comes with its share of serious moments. Donald, a scientist, is into neural computers and the mechanical replication of human thought and emotions. One of the other characters, another resident of the home, is angry and unwilling to face the fact that her life is almost over.
But Mighton's play also has a good number of laughs. You'll find them in the contrasting viewpoints held by parents and children, as well as in the character of an overly serious minister, Reverend Hill.
"And part of the comedy comes from the fact that the show deals with geriatric sex," adds Peterson, who's in Canuck-hit TV shows This Is Wonderland and Corner Gas. "Somehow that turns older audiences into giggly high-school kids. The thought of seniors getting it on is tense for most people, and the way audiences release that tension is with a chuckle."
Yet romance really does develop at seniors' homes, and in theory it's only a problem if there's a health concern. Even so, in some homes there are strict rules about patients not going to bed with each other.
"But what happens," Peterson continues, "is that children often want to keep their parent away from a new partner and argue the cliché that the older person's in a second childhood, that their actions are childish. The younger person is imposing on the older all that we appropriately impose on kids. But the parents aren't kids - they're adults."
The two actors, both decades younger than their characters, agree that there's a beauty at the end of life, a thought that doesn't usually occur to young people.
"There's splendour even up to the last gasp," nods Peterson. "The autumn colours are simply geriatric leaves that will soon fall to the ground, and no one minds that outburst of glory."