Twelve days ago, I sat in on the first read of My 80 Year Old Boyfriend. I laughed, I cried, I got goosebumps. I thought “Why does this play need rehearsing? It’s perfect as is.” Forward 12 days later–I tiptoe into a rehearsal and watch a couple of scenes. I laughed, I cried, I got goosebumps–even more than one Day 1.
I should have remembered from my experience as a cohort that every inflection, movement, facial expression is honed until it has the desired result. What I thought was pretty darn great is made even more so by this attention to detail and, more importantly, attention to the feelings those inflections, movements, and facial expressions generate. And, oh what feelings this show gives me that will honestly have a terrific impact on my life. Here’s my recommendation: See My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend with your heirs. If any of them aren’t moved by it, cut them out of your will. Sounds a little drastic, but you’ll know what I mean when you see the show.
Okay, maybe you wouldn’t think a show called “My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend” could be anything but silly–but it is. In fact, on of our Cohorts called it a “life-changing play.” It’s not a love story, nor is it an absurd comedy. There’s no intergenerational kissing.
Rather, it’s an incredible tale of unlikely friendship, about reaching across generational barriers to find a companion, even were you never dreamed you could. We think you’ll find it very funny, but also very moving.
2. This Music.
Ed Bell and Christian Duhamel are masters of their craft, and they have put together a score that is infectious and occasionally breathtaking. Listen to some of the music here:
Charissa Bertels nails it with this performance. She is a remarkable musical theatre soprano, a seasoned New York pro who has appeared on Broadway and with national touring companies. We think Lowell will fall in love with her, just like they did with Benjamin Scheuer in 2015’s The Lion.
4. This Set.
Scenic Designer Neil Patel is creating a gorgeous, upscale-New-York-apartment space for our set. The back window panels will be filled with colored lights that perfectly set the scene, all focused around the onstage baby grand piano.
5. These Costumes.
One character, four costumes: designer Gregory A. Poplyk is putting together a killer fashion lineup for Charissa. As the phases of her story shift… so do her clothes.
Costume renderings by Gregory A. Poplyk
We can’t wait to share the laughter and tears of this new true musical. See you at the theatre!
Charissa Bertels is mesmerizing in her one-woman musical My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend. It is rare to see an actress playing herself but on those rare occasions, it’s magical. Charissa has lived the role of Charissa which comes across in her delivery, her body movement, and her tears. She plays nine other roles and deftly demonstrates her acting chops.
Theatre exists to entertain and this play does that in spades. When we’re lucky, we see plays that elevate beyond entertainment and actually impact lives. My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend is one of those life-changing plays. I’ve heard it said many times that life is short and people need to step out of their comfort zones, make friends, take risks, and show and more importantly, tell the people we care about how we feel. My 80-Year-Old Boyfriend reminds us of that with wit and charm.
Plan to see it with a new friend, an old relative, and the person you love the most.
Eleanor Burgess is a Brookline native and award-winning playwright, who has also worked as a history teacher, gardener, and pastry chef. She lives in New York City.
What does it mean for you to be from Massachusetts?
I think there’s such a thing as a New England personality, which I think of as a kind of a combination of frankness and distance. New Englanders are straight-talking people – they tell you what they think and they don’t try too hard to be nice about it. But at the same time, they can be uncomfortable expressing their deepest emotions. To put it in a flowery, non-New-England way, people talk more about what’s on their minds than what’s in their hearts. New Englanders talk in subtext, code, and paradox – you tease someone to say you love them. When I got to college I got in a lot of trouble because I would say very mean things – I thought that was how you form friendships – and people from other states were like “why are you so mean?”
I also think being from Massachusetts involves a certain duality – a looking forward and looking back. Massachusetts is a place where a company or a university doing cutting-edge research can be next door to a building from the 17th century. I think we have this real sense of pride in our history and identity, and yet we’ve also been a politically forward-thinking state for – well, centuries. We’re neither afraid of nor obsessed with change – we’re willing to keep the best parts of what has been, and reach for new and better things in the future.
Do you think any of that comes out in Chill?
Absolutely. For starters, the characters have that very Massachusetts way of talking. Abrasive, but there’s so much affection under it. I wrote the play partly because the plays I was seeing in New York rarely featured people who talked like the people I know.
Also, Massachusetts tends to be liberal (although of course not exclusively). And the play, which takes place between 2001 and 2011, starts right after George W. Bush has been elected. I remember growing up in 90s Massachusetts and thinking that the liberal Promised Land was right around the corner. We were gonna fix the environment, make progress on human rights and international cooperation. There was a heartbreak to that, a missed opportunity. A lot of us have had to rediscover again and again what it means to be a liberal – and a lot of that redefinition happened at the state level, here.
Is this play a product of its time? Could the same play be set in a different decade?
That’s interesting. Yes, this was very much a love letter to my specific generation. It’s a play that asks, why are millennials the way they are? And how are they? There’s so much talk about this new generation – but very little of that discussion is from a millennial perspective. Most of it’s just “oh millennials, they’re always on Tinder and they love their smartphones so much…” But this generation just officially replaced baby boomers as the largest group in the country. I think it’s way past time that we take the millennial experience seriously – that we talk about what it was like to grow up in the midst of two wars, a teetering economy, and the end of the “American Century,” and about the very different picture millennials have of work, family, society, and what makes for a meaningful life.
At the same time, I’ve also found that the play’s surprisingly universal—because at its core, it’s about friendship, and it’s about growing up. And it’s about what happens to friendships over time. Our friends are such a core part of our life, yet we discuss friendship so much less than we discuss family, or romantic love. We don’t talk about what it really means to be a friend to someone, and how friendship looks different at different stages in your life. I’ve had people who came of age in the 60s or 70s see a reading and say, “I remember seeing my childhood friend after growing up, and having that same feeling, that same distance, and that same longing for closeness.”
Then, politically, the play has become suddenly very much of this time, now. It’s a play about how these huge historical forces that we have no control over affect every part of our lives. The characters are grappling with: What kind of America did you think you were going to come of age in? And what kind of America do you find yourself living in now? And how do you regroup and handle that gap? Admittedly, when I first wrote the play, I did not know how very relevant that question was going to be…
You once quoted a favorite teacher who told you to “write about things that seduce you and terrify you.” How does Chill do that?
In terms of terrifying – this is a play about the passage of time. It’s so basic, but it’s one of the hardest truths to grapple with: We are mortal people who get older, we only get one life and it doesn’t always (or ever) go the way we planned. How on earth does anyone ever handle that? When you look at a lot of the canonical American plays, so many of them are about regrets, or disappointments, or the slow realization that your life is not what you dreamed it would be.
In terms of seduction, there’s something seductive about going back, especially with high school. Your high school love—your high school best friend—they have this power. Even when you’ve grown up and you know that your life is different, there’s something so emotional and vivid about that time in your life. And it’s very seductive to go back, and to want to be young again.
It’s a two-act play, and the acts happen ten years apart. So a huge chunk of the story happens unseen at intermission. Was that challenging for you as writer?
It definitely was—because in the end, a drama has to happen in front of you. There have to be live feelings and tensions in the present, not just reveals about the past. But at the same time, writing with this structure let me dig into how life actually feels. And most of the time life doesn’t feel like an Ibsen play. The big things don’t always happen to us in one dramatic evening – they happen incrementally, and suddenly we wake up and realize we’re far down a path we don’t remember choosing. A play about semi-ordinary nights, and the deeper meanings they carry, was a fun challenge.
It was also wonderful to play with the contrast between the two acts. I’m so interested in how people and their relationships change as they grow up, and with the time jump, we get to actually see it – the different language people use at different ages, the way they move their bodies at different ages, the way they think and talk about each other and themselves. It makes the audience into active participants – the audience figures out the meaning of the play for themselves, by watching these two nights, and making the comparison.
Why do you write for the stage?
I love theatre because every character gets an equal shot at the audience’s empathy. Plays don’t tell a story through one character’s POV or cut to one character’s reaction shot – every character is equally present, equally alive in front of you. Which gives you the opportunity to feel for every character, instead of just the hero. As a playwright, you can present a whole set of people who are very different, some of whom seem unlikable, some of whom the audience has never seen or cared for before, and suddenly, seeing them live, in person, spending time with them, the audience begins to understand them, and feel for them in a way they never would have before.
A lot of times, especially in this digital age, we read and watch things we already agree with. And we change channels, or apps, the second we don’t. But in theatre we sit in a room with things that are new or uncomfortable or unfamiliar for us, and we let them unfold. And we grow.
Chill is the bittersweet story of four Brookline friends over a decade of change in America, it’s coming to our stage on March 22, and we can’t wait to share it with you. Here are five things to know about the play:
1. This is meaty, Chekhovian domestic drama for 21st century America. The play is set in a Brookline basement, where the characters assemble twice: first in 2001, then again in 2011. These four friends are a family of their own kind, and the drama shines through in the multitude of ways–both huge and subtle–that their relationships shift from start finish, all in the context of an America swept by profound change.
2. “Chill” gets at the heart of a generation, and it speaks to all of us. Maybe you graduated high school in the 2000’s and know exactly what it meant to jump into adulthood somewhere amidst 9/11, the Iraq War, the Great Recession, and the rise of the smartphone. Or maybe your children did, and you always wondered what they were doing in the basement on Friday nights. Or maybe you’re still in high school or college, and know better than anyone what it means to be in your teens or twenties, right now.
But friendship is universal. We all know what it’s like to have best friends–and to see those friendships change, for better or for worse.
3. The script is written unconventionally, with a completely organic flow.
Look at Eleanor Burgess’ script:
It’s laid out as a sort of vertical musical score of text, which generates a cascade speech from the actors, full of overlapping lines and naturalistic banter. The result is stunning and vivid. Fans of last season’s hit I and You will be right at home here.
4. It is a genuine local story and a true Massachusetts homecoming.
Nationally-recognized playwright Eleanor Burgess grew up in Brookline, Mass. and went to Brookline High School, just like the characters. To premiere this play in her home state is an honor and a thrill for us at MRT.
5. This cast is 100% worth coming to see.
These guys are as talented as they come, and this play gives them roles they can sink their teeth deep into. The results are performances that are moving, authentic, and downright excellent–just as you’ve come to expect on our stage.
As a cohort, I never know what to expect when I arrive at a rehearsal. I was in for a special treat yesterday when I watched them work on the tent bit. It was over-the-top funny. As they were trying out different moves, the actors made comments comparing the effect of the moving tent to:
A giant emoji
A huge pet cage that you put under your seat in an airplane–with an unhappy cat inside
Actress Gail Rastorfer, who plays Liz, remarked that she can now add “tent sex choreography” to her list of special talents. Director Sean Daniels commented that this scene alone is worth the price of admission.
-Terri Munson, Cohort
SPECIAL ALERT! When I went to purchase tickets, I noticed that they are going fast. DOn’t miss out on the opportunity to laugh out loud and have a blast at Women in Jeopardy!
Photo by Arup Malakar, creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/