note: entire contents copyright 2005 by Carl A. Rossi
Mathilde Giffard … Nancy E. Carroll
Mathias Gold … Harold Dixon
Chloe Giffard … Amelia Broome
The premise of Israel Horovitz’s MY OLD LADY screams for black comedy: Mathias Gold, a middle-aged American, comes to Paris to close up and sell a highly-desirable apartment bequeathed to him by his late, unloving father only to find that an ancient Frenchwoman named Mathilde Giffard has been living there for years with her daughter Chloe and can continue to live there due to an arrangement worked out with Mathias’ father. Mathias, penniless and down on his luck, must wait for Mathilde to die before he can cash in but Mathilde shows no signs of expiring anytime soon; had Mr. Horovitz stuck to his guns, Mathias would soon be making various attempts at Mathilde meeting her Maker sooner than later only to have the spry old girl outwit him at every turn and perhaps even send Mathias off in her place --- instead, Mathias bonds with Mathilde and flirts with Chloe as various pasts resurface and dovetail, justifying the women’s right to stay on in the apartment. And so I settled in for a sentimental comedy at the Gloucester Stage instead of a nasty one --- always a disappointment whenever fangs turn out to be dentures --- only to witness MY OLD LADY seriously plunge into counter-accusations, alcoholism, France’s treatment of her Jews during World War II and reported suicides, attempted and successful; the morning-after happy ending seems lame and tacked-on after this sudden Walpurgisnacht.
Eric C. Engel’s direction mirrors Mr. Horovitz’s extremes: Harold Dixon’s Mathias swings between broad sitcom and even broader tragedy while Mathilde, who prides herself on her joie de vivre, turns cunning and reptilian in the hands of Nancy E. Carroll, not known for kicking up her stage-heels but who would have been marvelous in a darker vision; as Chloe, Amelia Broome has little to do but relieve Mathilde in the ring and give herself to Mathias in an offer that drops from playwright-heaven. MY OLD LADY is a mixed bag, all around, and on the afternoon I attended the Gloucester audience seemed polite but puzzled as if an old friend had returned to them a total stranger --- considering an earlier draft of the play premiered there nine years ago, it probably is.