You dream of being retired. You count down the minutes to escape the daily grind, leavingbehind the minutiae of a workplace schedule. But have you ever stopped to think: What will I do once I get there?
“The Codgerella” is a humorous and poignant study of three newly-retired men in a familiar setting. Tom Zimmerman, Howard Moss and Sam Wilson (Dale Kilhman, Rick Haydon and Buck Rogers) meet daily in a diner to discuss life over coffee, poured by a spitfire, fast-pitching college student, Anne (Mariel Smith).
“They’re wondering what they will do with their lives now. They fall in love with the waitress — she’s very gregarious, full of life. She really wows them,” West T. Hill Community Theatre Managing Director Karen Logue says. “They sit around and talk like a bunch of women.”
Some of the dialogue is frivolous, according to Logue. The conversational flow brings a reality to the scenes, an honest reflection of what men this age muse about over morning coffee — self-deprecating jokes about bygone youth, using humorous analogies to describe how sex changes with age. The interactions are funny because they’re real.
“But there are also very, very moving moments. They don’t realize how she affected their lives until she’s gone,” Logue says.
The men get close to Anne, but she’s only serving at the diner until school starts back up and she can rejoin as pitcher on her school’s AAU softball team. They turn up their noses at Anne’s encouragement for them to get to know two ladies (Jan Sheffield and Jane Dewey) who frequent the greasy spoon — two women who are closer to the old codgers’ ages who Anne says lead interesting lives. But the men are attracted to the youth, the vivaciousness they see in the athletic waitress.
“This entire experience has been nothing but pure joy for me,” Logue says.
For the first time in 30 years, she was able to walk through the theater doors and focus only on directing, mostly thanks to handyman Jeff Cooper, who masterfully helped her design and then constructed the realistic diner set. It was amazing, Logue says, to come in every day and see a new piece constructed, painted or put into place.
The backdrop to the order window even provides a three-dimensional illustration as a realistic peek into the diner’s kitchen, a conceptual addition by local artist Brandon Long. Logue says productions like this are only possible with the help of local talent.
And then, Logue says, there’s her right hand — stage manager Alice Berka, affectionately known for keeping actors in line, on the ball and off-book.
“My favorite scene?” Logue echoes a question. “Well, it’s the last scene. But I can’t say anything about it.”
Rounding out the cast is Bill Nichols who plays Gus, the quirky, gruff albeit lovable diner owner.
“The Codgerella” is set in the mountains of North Carolina, close to the home of its author, Mark Cook. This is his first full-length play and was chosen as one of six, out of around 100 entries, for a staged reading at the 2010 Barter’s Appalachian Festival of Plays in Virginia. Later, Cook’s play was chosen to perform at the Barter in 2011.
During that process, Cook says, he received response and critical feedback about the play, resulting in more changes. He says the Danville production is the first full performance run of the final, grown-up version of the play.
“It’s about guys meeting for coffee, but it really concerns something I could not have understood 20 or 30 years ago,” Cook says about the situation of many in the unknown world of retirement.
A retired teacher himself, Cook spends his time writing and performing music with his band, writing plays and cycling across several states. He’s known people who have done it well — retirement — but also those who couldn’t think of a reason to get out of bed in the morning.
“The thought of reinventing ourselves … is a challenge. That’s what these guys are doing,” Cook explains. “Figuring out how they should live, what they have done in their lives. Or, in some cases, what they have left undone and how they can fix it.”
Cook says the meat of the play was inspired partly by people he knew, and by his own realization he would have a few more years ahead of him after retirement and needed to figure out how he was going to live them.
“As I¿say, it is not an effortless thing,” Cook notes.
Cook will be in Danville with wife Elizabeth for “The Codgerella’s” world premiere Friday.
IF YOU GO
March 22-24 and 29-31 at West T. Hill Community Theatre
Performances are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday
Tickets are $12 and may be purchased at the theater on Larrimore Lane 5:30-6:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday or online at http://tickets.westthill.com
Box office open an hour prior to each performance for ticket purchases
For more information, call (859)¿319-0205