When Crosby, Stills & Nash recorded "Our House," group living meant communes, tofu and free love. In Carol Weinberg's "A Very Fine House," which takes its name from that song, group living means a retirement home, pitted prunes and Social Security.
Actually, the house in Weinberg's play -- being presented by the Avalon Theater Company as part of the Baltimore Playwrights Festival -- is an experiment in communal living. A retired school principal is sharing her home with five other retirees as a way for them to maintain independence on a fixed income.
Writing a play about the dignity of the elderly is a noble pursuit, but producing it on the community theater level can be tricky because the acting pool tends to be a good bit younger than the characters -- a fact this cast fails to disguise despite grayed hair and stooped posture.
Still, Weinberg knows how to create touching moments in which seemingly disparate characters connect, and the cast does them justice. There's a lovely scene between the two male residents of the house and another between a soon-to-be divorced housewife and the social work student who has made these folks her community service project.
But for the most part, the script is over-written. Weinberg fills in every gap and deprives the audience of the joy of discovery. More than anything, the play is about family and the fact that the most meaningful familial bonds are shared with the people you care about, not necessarily those you are related to.
It's a theme that can easily slip into sentimentality, and whether due to overstatement in the script or Christy Gasper's direction, in this case, it often does. However, Annette Sussman and Edward Kuhl convey convincing affection as a long-married couple, still very much in love. And Marge Goering is every inch the take-charge administrator as Dotty, the former educator who dreamed up this independent living scheme and is determined to keep it going despite the objections of a recalcitrant zoning board.
But we know, well before Dotty does, that she and the young social worker, huffily played by Michelle Bar-av, are really kindred spirits. And we also know there's more than jokes and glitter to Rosemary Monti's star-struck Gloria, who claims life would be complete if she could just appear on "The Tonight Show."
In "Golden Girls' " terms, Dotty is the overbearing Bea Arthur character, and Gloria is a combination of air-headed Betty White and flashy Rue McClanahan. But I suspect Weinberg is trying for something a little deeper than a sitcom here. She should start by listening to her characters. These feisty senior citizens resent having too much done for them -- and so does an audience.
'A Very Fine House' When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.
Where: Avalon Theater Company, Catonsville Community Careers Center, 106 Bloomsbury Ave., Catonsville.
Call: (410) 242-6416.