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February 6, 2024

Shows for Senior Actors

2015 Playwrights Horizons production of Marjorie Prime (Jeremy Daniel)

From navigating grandparenthood to enjoying retirement with the best of friends, these picks from Concord Theatricals highlight a slew of juicy roles for senior actors. Take a look below for a variety of plays and musicals featuring prime parts for performers in their later years.

4000 Miles by Amy Herzog (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 3w, 1m)
Ninety-one-year-old Vera aims to connect with her 21-year-old grandson Leo after he suffers a major loss while on a cross-country bike trip. He moves into her West Village apartment, and over the course of a single month, these unlikely roommates infuriate, bewilder and ultimately reach each other. 4000 Miles earned playwright Amy Herzog a 2012 Obie Award for Best New American Play. The premiere Lincoln Center production starred Mary-Louise Wilson as Vera and Gabriel Ebert as Leo, each of whom was awarded an Obie for their performance.

70, Girls, 70 by Fred Ebb, Norman L. Martin and John Kander (US/UK)
(Full-Length Musical, Comedy / 6w, 6m)
Based on the play Breath of Spring by Peter Coke, and adapted by Joe Masteroff, 70, Girls, 70 follows some feisty old folks who resort to stealing and reselling furs when they learn their retirement home is due for the wrecking ball. The tuneful Kander & Ebb score includes “Coffee in a Cardboard Cup” and “Yes.”

A Murder of Crows by Ed Graczyk (US)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 3w, 3m)
In this heartfelt play by the author of Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, an eccentric elderly couple debates whether to remain after their small town experiences a catastrophic toxic waste accident. Harley and Jennie Woodson live above their combination general store/post office in Wallace, Ohio. Business is not too good; they are just about the last folks left in Wallace. When an environmental disaster leaves the dirt around them deadly, Jennie wants to pack up and move out like everyone else, but Harley won’t leave – even though he is dying of cancer.

For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday by Sarah Ruhl (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2w, 4m)
A loving look at a family’s view of death, life and the allure of never growing up, this play follows a senior woman named Ann, who, upon thinking of her father, immediately remembers playing Peter Pan in her hometown theater in Iowa, particularly when he used to bring her flowers after her performance. Ann’s memory is jogged by the fact that she and her four siblings are in their father’s hospital room during his final moments. His death sparks a conversational wake that includes everything from arguments over politics to when each sibling realized they grew up.

Four Old Broads by Leslie Kimbell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6w, 1m)
For retired burlesque queen Beatrice Shelton and her best friend, prayerful Eaddy Mae Clayton, things have not been very pleasant at Magnolia Place Assisted Living since Nurse Pat Jones began working there. The newest resident, Imogene Fletcher, is suddenly losing her memory. Maude Jenkins is obsessed with her favorite soap opera and planning her own funeral. Sam Smith, retired Elvis impersonator, keeps trying to bed every woman in the building. A mystery unfolds with laughter as the gals try to outsmart the evil Nurse Jones, figure out why so many residents have been moved to “the dark side,” what exactly is that mysterious pill, and what happened to Doctor Head? The sequels Four Old Broads on the High Seas (US/UK) and The Miss Magnolia Senior Citizen Beauty Pageant (US/UK) are also available for licensing.

Going to a Place Where You Already Are by Bekah Brunstetter (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2w, 3m)
Is there a heaven? Joe says no; it’s all a bunch of hokum. His wife, Roberta, has always claimed to agree. But lately she’s beginning to wonder, especially when they find themselves in church a lot, having reached the age when funerals are more frequent than weddings. Their granddaughter, Ellie, doesn’t have time in her own busy life to ponder the afterlife. But when mortality confronts them, her grandmother’s claim to have gone to heaven and back doesn’t sound so crazy after all. With thoughtful storytelling and quiet wit, Brunstetter looks at beginnings, endings — and an enigmatic angel.

Harold and Maude by Colin Higgins (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 6w, 6m)
Writer Colin Higgins adapted his beloved screenplay into this hit stage play about a lonely 19-year-old boy who finally learns how to truly live when he meets a delightfully wacky octogenarian. Alienated and fixated upon death, Harold repeatedly stages his own suicide in a cry for attention from his self-obsessed mother. While attending a funeral, he encounters Maude, who shares his love for memorial services, but for different reasons. Harold soon develops a peculiar attachment to Maude and her eccentric philosophy, and their quirky relationship deepens, eventually opening a pathway for Harold to embrace life.

I’m Not Rappaport by Herb Gardner (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2w, 5m)
The author of A Thousand Clowns (US/UK) brings us another set of the particular creatures that are New Yorkers. I’m Not Rappaport takes place under a bridge in Central Park, where two octogenarians — one white, one Black — meet regularly, determined to fight off all attempts to put them out to pasture. Nat is a cantankerous Communist whose daughter is urging him into the old folks’ home. Midge, an apartment superintendent spends his days in the park hiding in the past, and hiding from his disgruntled tenants. I’m Not Rappaport made its Broadway premiere in 1985, winning the Tony Award for Best Play. The cast was led by Cleavon Little as Midge and Judd Hirsch, in a Tony-winning performance, as Nat.

Marjorie Prime by Jordan Harrison (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 2w, 2m)
It’s the age of artificial intelligence, and 85-year-old Marjorie — a jumble of disparate, fading memories — has a handsome new companion who’s programmed to feed the story of her life back to her. What would we remember, and what would we forget, if given the chance? In this richly spare, wondrous new play, Jordan Harrison explores the mysteries of human identity and the limits — if any — of what technology can replace. Marjorie Prime premiered at the Mark Taper Forum/Center Theater Group in Los Angeles in September 2014. The production starred Lois Smith as Marjorie and was directed by Les Waters.

Nana’s Naughty Knickers by Katherine DiSavino (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 5w, 3m, 1 any gender)
Bridget and her grandmother are about to become roommates. However, what Bridget saw as a unique opportunity to stay with her favorite nana in New York for the summer quickly turns into an experience she’ll never forget. It seems her sweet grandma is running an illegal boutique from her apartment, selling handmade naughty knickers to every senior citizen in the five-borough area! Will Bridget be able to handle all the excitement? Will her nana get arrested — or worse — evicted? The sequel Nana Does Vegas (US/UK) is also available for licensing.

Painting Churches by Tina Howe (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2w, 1m)
In this finalist for the 1985 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, Gardner and Fanny Church are preparing to move out of their Beacon Hill house to their summer cottage on Cape Cod. Gardner, once a famous poet, now is retired. He slips in and out of senility as his wife Fanny valiantly tries to keep them both afloat. They have asked their daughter, Mags, to come home and help them move. Mags agrees, for she hopes as well to finally paint their portrait. She is now on the verge of artistic celebrity herself and hopes, by painting her parents, to come to terms with them and they with her. Mags triumphs in the end as Fanny and Gardner actually step through the frame and become a work of art ineffable and timeless. Painting Churches debuted in 1983 in an off-Broadway production with Second Stage, directed by Carole Rothman, and starring George N. Martin as Gardner, Marian Seldes as Fanny and Elizabeth McGovern as Mags.

Quartet by Ronald Harwood (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2w, 2m)
Cecily, Reggie and Wilfred reside in a home for retired opera singers in Kent, England. Each year, on the tenth of October, there is a concert to celebrate Verdi’s birthday. Jean, who used to be married to Reggie, arrives at the home and disrupts their equilibrium. She still acts like a diva and refuses to sing. But the show must go on in this funny and poignant play by the author of Another Time (US/UK), The Dresser (US/UK) and Interpreters (US/UK), which premiered at the Albery Theatre in London.

Sex Please We’re Sixty by Michael Parker and Susan Parker (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4w, 2m)
At the Rose Cottage Bed & Breakfast, elderly, silver-tongued Bud “the Stud” Davis romantically pursues and charms the inn’s female guests, including the proprietor, prim and proper Mrs. Stancliffe. Meanwhile, retired chemist Henry Mitchell develops a blue pill called “Venusia” to increase the libido of menopausal women. The women mix up Bud’s Viagra pills with the Venusia, and we soon discover that it has a strange effect on men: it gives them all the symptoms of menopausal women, complete with hot flashes, mood swings, weeping and irritability! When the mayhem settles down, all the women find their lives moving in new and surprising directions.

Southern Comforts by Kathleen Clark (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 1w, 1m)
In a sprawling New Jersey Victorian, a taciturn Yankee widower and a vivacious grandmother from Tennessee find what they least expected — a second chance at love. Their funny, awkward, and enchanting romance is filled with sweet surprise and unpredictable tribulation. Told with warmth and perceptive humor, this off-Broadway success is an affecting, late-in-life journey of compromise, rejuvenation, personal risk and the rewards of change.

Taking My Turn by Gary William Friedman, Bob Livingston and Will Holt (US)
(Full-Length Musical, Drama / 4w, 4m)
Taking My Turn is the award-winning, critically acclaimed musical by the same team that collaborated on the hit show The Me Nobody Knows (US). Taking My Turn was one of the first musicals to deal with aging. The spoken words were collected from interviews with people “in their prime,” which became the basis for the non-linear book. The size of the cast may vary according to the needs of each production.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel by Deborah Moggach (UK)
(Drama / 8w, 6m)
Based on the Sunday Times bestseller which inspired one of this century’s most treasured films, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel takes us on a journey to India with an eclectic group of British retirees as they embark on a new life. The luxury residence is far from the opulence they were promised, but as their lives begin to intertwine, they are charmed in unexpected and life-changing ways. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a joyous comedy about taking risks, finding love and embracing second chances, even in the most surprising of places.

The Cemetery Club by Ivan Menchell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 4w, 1m)
Three Jewish widows meet once a month for tea before going to visit their husbands’ graves. Ida is sweet tempered and ready to begin a new life; Lucille is a feisty embodiment of the girl who just wants to have fun; and Doris is priggish and judgmental, particularly when Sam the butcher enters the scene. He meets the widows while visiting his wife’s grave. Doris and Lucille squash the budding romance between Sam and Ida. They are guilt-stricken when this nearly breaks Ida’s heart.

The Father by Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller (UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 3w, 3m)
In a darkly humorous and deeply poignant translation by Christopher Hampton, Florian Zeller’s The Father is a tragicomic mystery, a sobering and realistic family story, and an unsentimental, emotionally intense look at the world through the eyes of a man experiencing dementia. The 2020 film adaptation of the play, starring Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Colman, earned six Academy Award nominations, winning two: Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Hopkins.

The Gin Game by D.L. Coburn (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 1w, 1m)
This winner of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, which originally starred Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn and was later revived with Julie Harris and Charles Durning, then Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, uses a card game as a metaphor for life. Weller Martin is playing solitaire on the porch of a seedy nursing home. Enter Fonsia Dorsey, a prim, self-righteous lady. They discover they both dislike the home and enjoy gin rummy, so they begin to play and to reveal intimate details of their lives. Fonsia wins every time, and their secrets become weapons used against one another.

The Miss Magnolia Senior Citizen Beauty Pageant by Leslie Kimbell (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 7w, 2m)
The Four Old Broads are back, with some wacky new friends, in an all-new comedy. Against her better judgement, Lurleen Dupree is throwing the seventh annual Miss Magnolia Senior Citizen Beauty Pageant. Martha Parcell is certain that it is finally her year to win. But Beatrice, Imogene and Eaddy have other plans. Throw in a tambourine-playing squirrel, dueling Elvises, and an unfortunate spray-tanning incident…and you’re in for a knee-slapping, side-splitting night of live theatre. Four Old Broads (US/UK) and Four Old Broads on the High Seas (US/UK) are also available for licensing.

The Plot, Like Gravy, Thickens by Billy Wayne St. John (US)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 9w, 5m)
Great storm effects, spiffy costumes and lots of fun and mystery distinguish this work by the author of Abduction (US), The Reunion (US) and others. Ever want to commit a murder? Walter, the playwright’s alter ego in this madcap mystery, demonstrates just how to do someone in — in your imagination, of course!

The Puzzle with the Piazza by Mark Dunn (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 4w, 1m)
A story of a septuagenarian, who has one jigsaw puzzle among her large collection that she’s never finished. It contains 3,000 pieces and she has less than a day to finish it, because poor health has forced her to move in with her younger sister… without her puzzles. This gentle, bittersweet play explores the fragility of family ties and the often much stronger bonds of friendship that lattice the final years of our lives.

The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 2w, 5m)
In Neil Simon’s classic laugh-a-minute comedy, Al and Willie, as “Lewis and Clark,” were top-billed vaudevillians for over 40 years. Now they aren’t even speaking. When CBS requests them for a “History of Comedy” retrospective, a grudging reunion brings the two back together, along with a flood of memories, miseries and laughs. Jack Albertson and Sam Levene starred in the original Broadway production; George Burns and Walter Matthau took on the roles of Al and Willie in the 1975 film adaptation.

The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Dramatic Comedy / 2w, 3m)
Gladys, the elderly matriarch of the Green family, has run an art gallery in a small Greenwich Village hotel for many years. The management wants to replace her less-than-thriving gallery with a coffee shop. Always irascible but now increasingly erratic, Gladys is a cause of concern to her daughter, her son-in-law, and her grandson, from whose point of view this poignant memory play is told. A wacky and heartrending look at the effect of senility on a family, The Waverly Gallery was a success in its 2000 premiere at New York’s Promenade Theatre, winning an Obie for legendary Eileen Heckart in the role of Gladys. Nineteen years later, the play premiered on Broadway, earning a Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Revival of a Play and a Tony Award for 86-year-old leading actress Elaine May.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (US)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 1f)
In this dramatic adaptation of her award-winning, bestselling memoir, which The New York Times called “an indelible portrait of loss and grief… a haunting portrait of a four-decade-long marriage,” Joan Didion transforms the story of the sudden and unexpected loss of her husband and their only daughter into a stunning and powerful one-woman play. The Year of Magical Thinking premiered on Broadway at the Booth Theatre in 2007. Directed by David Hare, the production starred Vanessa Redgrave as Joan Didion.

Waiting in the Wings by Noël Coward (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Comedy / 14w, 4m)
Coward’s tribute to theatre is set in a retirement home for actresses, all former stars. Jealousies abound, especially between Lotta and another who was also married to her former husband. A tragedy brings them to their senses and a new solarium brings out everyone’s good nature. Lotta chooses to stay with her old friends rather than go live with her son.

Wings by Arthur Kopit (US/UK)
(Full-Length Play, Drama / 5w, 4m)
An actress’s tour de force, this remarkable play starred Constance Cummings in a Tony-winning performance. Emily Stilson, 70 years old and a celebrated former aviatrix and stunt pilot, suffers a stroke and is plunged into a world of disorientation and grief. Memories flood in between painful attempts to relearn the basic functions of everyday life. Aided by a dedicated young therapist, Emily’s flights of memory and emotion create an evocative portrait of the ability of the human spirit to renew and survive. The stunning musical adaptation of Wings (US/UK), an off-Broadway hit at the Public Theater, is also available for licensing.

For more great plays and musicals featuring seniors, visit Concord Theatricals in the US or UK.

Header image: 2015 Playwrights Horizons production of Marjorie Prime (Jeremy Daniel)