Past Reviews

Off Broadway Reviews

Fern Hill

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - September 19, 2019

John Glover, Mark Linn-Baker, Mark Blum, Jill Eikenberry, and Jodi Long
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Fern Hill, written by actor/playwright Michael Tucker and opening tonight at 59E59 Theaters after an earlier run at the New Jersey Rep, makes a patchy effort at merging two different storylines about a trio of married couples approaching or already in their golden years.

The play's title is a reference to the non-working farm in upstate New York that is a get-away property owned by one of the couples, Sunny (Jill Eikenberry) and Jer (Mark Blum); the punning reference to another familiar duo is undoubtedly intentional, but it is never touched upon. Their very good friends, Billy (Mark Linn-Baker) and Michiko (Jodi Long), and Darla (Ellen Parker) and Vincent (John Glover), are their frequent weekend guests. The reason for this particular get-together ostensibly is a group celebration of milestone birthdays for the men. Billy is turning 60; Jer, 70; and Vincent, 80.

But the gathering also has another purpose. After the toasts and the friendly banter among the long-time friends, it comes to light that, among the women at least, there has been some serious discussion about having them all live together, communally. This way, they can not only be surrounded by their nearest and dearest, but they can help each other get through the vicissitudes of growing old instead of leaving it up to offspring or hired caregivers or institutional settings.

This set-up potentially is the play's stronger plot point. At its best, it might lead to something like an older person's version of Michael Weller's Moonchildren, which was about a group of college students living together in off-campus housing in the 1960s. Or maybe like the movie, "The Big Chill," or perhaps the tv sitcom "The Golden Girls." But, sadly, instead of running with it, Mr. Tucker brings in a different scenario altogether, when one of the three couples is revealed to be having problems in their relationship. And even that turn of events is dealt with fairly superficially as the other two couples become surrogate marriage counselors.

The play as a whole gets off to a very slow start with the exposition-heavy first act and Nadia Tass's sluggish direction. There are certainly moments, especially in Act II, when the cast members do or say something that is funny or touching. Mark Linn-Baker is particularly good at portraying Billy, an often stoned, aging hippy-dippy member of a touring rock band, a man with a big loving heart and zero impulse control. And John Glover, who always seems able to breathe life into every role he plays, manages nicely as the underwritten Vincent, the group's elder statesman, hobbled and in need of some TLC following hip replacement surgery.

Jill Eikenberry, who is married to the playwright, and the two other women do what they can with their own sketchy roles, while Mark Blum as Jer, who is at the center of the group's intervention, has little to do beyond acting curmudgeonly. All six characters are given interesting backgrounds in academia or the creative arts, but they might as well be stockbrokers or airline pilots or anything else you can think of, since little is done to bring out their purported aptitudes. Unfortunately, nothing is sufficiently developed, so that what we wind up with is six decidedly talented cast members in search of a far more robust plot.

Fern Hill
Through October 20
Theater A at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street between Madison and Park Avenues.
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: