Growing old with dignity is the theme of Sally Darnowsky's "Twilight, with Roses," and, for the most part, it is receiving dignified treatment at the Avalon Players, where the script is the first entry in the 10th annual Baltimore Playwrights Festival.
Much of the credit for the proper tone belongs to Dickens Warfield, who plays the lead role of Grace Valeria, an elderly, twice-widowed, retired nurse.
When her young physician and dearest friend, competently played by Bill Rucker, engages a live-in practical nurse to care for her, he tells the nurse that Grace is special. Ms. Warfield's performance makes it easy to see why; she imbues the character with sharp intelligence, spunk and style.
The nurse, however, introduces conflict into the household. Gail Vogler Schuman may overdo some of the more ghoulish aspects of her character, or it may be a case of overwriting, but either way, her approach to dealing with the elderly comes across as excessively paternalistic. You get the feeling that if she can't treat her patients as children, she'd just as soon they were vegetables, completely dependent on her care. And, in fact, after less than a day, Grace appears noticeably more helpless and infirm.
The nurse's primary opponent is Grace's devoted family retainer, Rennie. A crusty curmudgeon who refuses to acknowledge that either he or Grace are growing old, Rennie is played by Mike Bird with a touch of affectation, but a lot of heart.
"Twilight, with Roses" is most successful when it dramatizes various approaches to aging: Grace, as her name suggests, wants to grow old gently; Rennie wants to rage against the dying of the light; and the nurse wants to hurry both of them toward the inevitable.
The play falters when it gives in to melodrama, a flaw that shows up not only in the dialogue but in some of the plot's romantic complications, as well as the rather sinister characterization of the nurse. In the final scene, instead of emphasizing the script's more thoughtful qualities, director Patti Restivo lets the action slip into soap opera.
With America graying at an increasing rate, "Twilight, with Roses" addresses some important and pertinent issues. However, the script would be stronger if Ms. Darnowsky toned down its extremes. (And incidentally, if she takes out her pencil to do any rewrites, she could start by erasing the superfluous comma in the title.)
'Twilight, With Roses' When: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., matinee June 30 at 3 Through June 30.
Where: Avalon Players, Catonsville Career Center, 106 Bloomsbury Ave.