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“Fireflies” at Curtain Call a love story about mature people

Judi Merriam has been performing in musical theater locally for about forty years. For about the same amount of time she’s been teaching and directing young people how to perform in musical theater. Now, at the age of 65, she’s transitioning from musicals to straight theatre.

Indeed, she appears in “Fireflies” Thursday March 16- Sunday March 19 at Curtain Call theater playing the 69 year old character Eleanor. The woman has been living a quiet and content life in her comfortable home in Texas. Though Eleanor has held up well, the house did not. It is in need of serious renovation and Eleanor prefers to just sell it and return to her comfortable existence. A drifter with expert handyman skills takes a fancy to the house and attempts to convince Eleanor to let him return it to its former glory.

Anyone who has ever seen a Hallmark television film or read a Harlequin romantic novel should know the dance of two opposites being attracted to each other. Merriam takes some exception to that idea. She believes that the play is not as trivial as it might sound. It’s her opinion that the age of the characters brings more depth to the story. “When you reach a certain age some decisions are a little more difficult,” she points out. “After years as being the most respected woman in town, I find myself being attracted to this bad boy type of guy.” She then questioned, “do you have any idea what it’s like for a person her age to show a different side of herself to the world?”

She discussed this with a theater friend and realized that the issue was that she was not letting go of what was comfortable. That realization made her return to rehearsal almost joyful. “I realized that Eleanor had the same problem and now I could play her.” Interestingly Merriam recently played a 71-year old woman at Circle Theatre in Avril Park. That character was similar to Eleanor and was able to leave her comfortable life by a make a solo journey that would open her life.

She started to laugh at the thought that she’s being type cast. However, she said if that is true it’s because theater is not producing places that show people in their 60s as genuine people. “The only times you see older people on stage they are either lonely people or grouchy people. It’s a form of ageism that denies a class of people their resilience, their vitality, and their ability to continue to contribute to society.”

Merriam thinks of it as ironic. I often find myself on stage in a work about the problems of 20 and 30 year-olds. I look out in the audience and don’t see those people represented.” She applauds Curtain Call Theatre for their commitment to produce plays where the people on stage look like the people in their audience.

One issue Merriam feels is neglected in plays with elderly characters is their awareness of mortality. Thoughts of mortality are not only about a person’s own death she says and points out that as one grows older, the greater are the chance that a person has lost someone close.

It is something of which she is sadly aware. She lost one of her three children to suicide in 2011. Last year, she published a book “Empty Shoes at the Door” about her experiences after her 18-year old son Jensen committed suicide days before Christmas. “Whenever I hear of a child suicide I personally reach out to the family. She also speaks to groups about the grieving process. She says, over the years I’ve heard some terrible tales about loss and many wonderful tales about survival. There are so many uplifting stories about people deciding to live happy lives, even after one of the greatest tragedy’s a parent can imagine.”

In the broadest possible way, she compares growing after grief to just growing older. “The important thing is to keep moving forward. You can be happy when things aren’t going well, the same way you can be happy when things are normal. It’s painful and difficult but it’s important to always keep living life to the fullest.”

I have an idea I’m going to like the character Eleanor in Curtain Call Theater’s production of “Fireflies.” It plays Thursday to Sunday until March 19. For tickets and schedule information call 518-877-7529 or go to curtaincalltheatre.com. “Empty Shoes by the Door” is published by JAR Press and is available at several local book stores.

Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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