A play written and workshopped in Gainesville before premiering in New York City last month opens the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre’s 38th season on Friday night.
The Big Apple gave Sunset Village its approval a month ago. Now, Michael Presley Bobbitt is about to see whether his homegrown play about the seamy escapades at a retirement community appeals to Gainesville audiences.
Opening Night is Friday at 8 at the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, 619 S. Main St. (in the Historic Baird Center). Sunset Village will also have performances Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. followed by three performances a week through Sept. 23.
There’s a $5 (cash only) preview performance Thursday night at 8.
Bobbitt is still glowing after Sunset Village made its world premiere in early August at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival in New York City. A Gainesville-based cast performed the play three nights in a row at The Theatre at the 14th Street Y.
The play was one of 22 chosen for the festival from hundreds of submissions. Bobbitt said that the experience was invaluable.
“I learned that the talent in Gainesville is as good as anywhere in the country, and that dedication and commitment matter no matter where you’re from,” he said.
The play centers around recently widowed Edna (Anna Marie Kirkpatrick), who moves into a large-scale retirement community only to quickly learn that its golf-cart-driving senior citizens are not ready to slow down. She soon falls for smooth-talking Joe (Shamrock McShane), who might not be ready to relinquish his playboy ways.
Coaching Edna through the process are gal pals Mikayla (Kristin Mercer), Norma (Cindy Weldon Lasley) and Louise (Jan Cohen). The cast also includes not-so-grandmotherly Carolyne (Gay Hale), activity director Tommy (Ian Hales) and real-estate agent Andrea (Laura Beth Jackson).
“These actors have discovered the real people in this play,” said director Tom Miller. “And I dare say that it’s bigger and deeper and more resonant and more complex than even I or the playwright could have imagined.”
The play has hilarious moments and contains one scene that is unsuitable for children. But Sunset Village also has heartfelt tenderness, according to Miller.
“It runs the gamut of human emotion,” he said. “It’s certainly funny, it’s introspective, it’s absurd, it’s deep, it’s wacky. It’s got all of the components of human life in it. I hope people take away from it not only an entertaining experience but one that maybe they’ll think about as they question their own decisions that they make in having to face the end of time.”
Bobbitt said he is indebted to Miller for bringing his script to life.
“Tom Miller is a gifted and passionate director that led the actors on a profound journey to get out of their comfort zones and really get into their characters,” Bobbitt said. “I have worked with many of the actors in the play before, and I can report without hesitation that their work in Sunset Village is the best I’ve ever seen from them.”
In New York, Sunset Village was performed as a 90-minute, one-act play to meet festival guidelines. At the Acrosstown, the play will include an intermission as well as some revisions that Bobbitt made to the script upon returning to Gainesville.
“I made significant cuts to the play to make sure that every part of the dialogue advanced the narrative,” he said. “Unlike prose, in a play every beat and syllable matters. I spent a lot of time sharpening the narrative everywhere I could.”
Many of the changes were the result of feedback Bobbitt received from theater professionals who watched Sunset Village during the BBTF.
“One hundred percent of the audience feedback was positive and the vast majority of the professional critique was positive,” Bobbitt said.
“One guy thought the play ought to have covered different issues that face old people, namely physical decline and lack of mobility. I am firm in my belief that not every story about old folks has to be about the difficulties of aging — that older people still face the same existential and relationship issues we all do. This is a play about a different aspect of aging.”
Bobbitt said the New York experience has helped to hone his play-writing skills.
“I learned to get out of my own way and let the characters that I create speak for themselves, from their own perspectives,” he said. “I also learned that almost every time I write a passage of dialogue that I think is especially clever or poignant, it’s usually an indulgent mess and ends up getting cut from the play.”
The buzz about Sunset Village has resulted in record-setting advance sales for the Acrosstown Repertory Theatre, which is opening its 38th season. Oak Hammock, a retirement community in Gainesville, has purchased all the tickets for an upcoming show.
“I’m proud of the incredible response from the community,” Bobbitt said. “A few days away from opening night in Gainesville and we are seeing unprecedented ticket sales. I am confident most, if not all, of the nine performances here will sell out.”
So, why should Gainesville get excited about Sunset Village?
“Come for the old-people sex, stay for the existential dread,” Bobbitt said. “Sunset Village is a fun story about our elders living it up in their golden years, but it’s also a story about the difficulties we all face cultivating and maintaining meaningful relationships.
“Come laugh at the impossible bleakness of human life, and wash it all down with naked old people getting high and screwing in their golf carts!”
— Noel Leroux
Acrosstown Repertory Theatre
619 S. Main St.
(in the Historic Baird Center)
Gainesville, FL 32601
Tickets: $15 ($13 for students and seniors)
Performances: Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., through Sept. 23.
For further info, visit the Acrosstown website.