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The Sweet Spot

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 13, 2024

Joel Leffert and Nancy Nichols
Photo by Basil Rodericks
Time is a funny thing. It ticks on and on whether we are prepared for it or not. One minute you're a kid; the next you're caught up in a whirlwind of transitions that take you from young adult to middle aged to elderly. The latter stage is where we find ourselves in the company of Jerry and Vita in Alice Jankell's short (60 minutes) and gentle slice-of-life play, The Sweet Spot, a production of the American Bard Theater Company opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters.

Jerry and Vita (played by real-life couple Joel Leffert and Nancy Nichols) are pretty pleased with the way things are going as a longtime married pair (56 years and counting). It's been ages since their children have grown and had children of their own; in fact, they are anxiously awaiting word on their pending great-grandparenthood as they carry out one of the rituals they have established for themselves in their New York City apartment (attractively designed by Robert Dutiel), comfortably uncluttered and unfancy, a place that feels as though it has been lived in, including the damaged-and-hastily-repaired bit of wall.

This particular ritual is breakfast together, a well-established routine of busy-enough empty nesters. Jerry, a semi-retired documentary filmmaker (his Emmy sits on a sill above the HVAC unit in the breakfast nook) and Vita, a retired book editor now working as an art museum docent, still have plenty to keep them occupied. But looking down the road (no rush; perhaps sometime in the next few years) is a plan to move into a retirement community across the Hudson in New Jersey. It's the sort of vague plan they want to have in place for "someday" while they are still able to be in charge of their own lives.

But then comes the phone call that triggers the action of The Sweet Spot, which the playwright calls "a play in three mornings." It is not the anticipated birth announcement, but someone from the retirement community, calling to let them know that a vacancy has unexpectedly opened (they and we quickly surmise why this is the case), and that they have three days to make up their minds before being redeposited to the bottom of the waiting list.

That is the gist of the play, a realistic consideration of what lies ahead for the couple and a decision that must be made. There is not a lot of dramatic tension or (thankfully, not) melodrama here, but the dialog rings true, in a style that is somewhat reminiscent of one of A. R. Gurney's or Horton Foote's more genteel family dramas. Joel Leffert and Nancy Nichols, who are not only long-married themselves but have worked together on more than two dozen productions through the years, also ring true in their interactions, under Page Clements' genial direction. To add a fanciful touch, the play also includes short scenes-from-a-marriage in which Gabriel Rysdahl and Tasha Milkman appear and enact loving (and occasionally tense) moments from the early years of Jerry and Vita's life together, helping to solidify the notion of a long marriage in which the final curtain is starting to loom in the not-so-far distance.

The Sweet Spot
Through January 27, 2024
American Bard Theater Company
59E59 Theaters, 59 E. 59th St., New York NY
Tickets online and current performance schedule: