Memory and Loneliness Are Examined in Theatre Exile’s SATURN RETURNS

by Arnie Finkel

David Raphaely, Joe Canuso, Amanda Schoonover and Harry Philibosian in Theatre Exile' s SATURN RETURNS. (Photo credit: Paola Nogueras)

As I grow into the senior citizen role life has designated for me, I reflect on the subjects of SATURN RETURNS often.  This is a memory play, filled with the difficulty of saying goodbye to some of the important times of your life and living with the thoughts that remain.   How long does this go on?  When does the forgetting begin? Or does it ever?

Gustin Novak is 88 years old when we meet him.  We also see him at 28 and 58.  The thirty year difference in ages is the reason for the title-SATURN RETURNS.  In terms of your horoscope when the planet Saturn returns to the time of your birth (approximately every thirty years) important things happen to you-both good and bad.

Gustin at 88 (memorably played by Philly regular Harry Philbosian) lives alone and lonely in the home in which his wife died in childbirth and  his only child left him and died at 30 years of age.  He cannot leave the house because of all that he remembers of those in his life that revolve around his surroundings, even when he is urged to go to a retirement home by Suzanne his caretaker ( played, as are all the women in his life, wonderfully by Amanda Schoonover).

At 28, Gustin is taking care of his difficult wife Loretta.  David Raphaely nailed the role of loving her and dealing with her problems.  The 58 year old Gustin (a strong performance by Exile’s own Joe Canuso) has to try to say goodbye to his only daughter, who has been the center of his life.  Each of the Gustins reflects on the memories of the events in each time frame.  This involves the three of them on stage at the same time.  Most of the reflections come from the oldest Gustin.  There is a surprising amount of humor in his comments. 

It helps having the wife and daughter played by the same actress, so that lines about how much alike they are makes sense.  But it does make for some very quick costume changes for Ms. Schoonover.  Speaking of costumes, it was a brilliant touch of Director Brenna Geffers to put the older Gustin and the youngest Gustin in the same pajamas and then adding a suit coat as middle aged Gustin appears in a suit.  Ms. Geffers has done yeoman work in keeping all the ages true to his and her time period and yet making the audience see the overlapping of character.

The set was a suggestion, not a virtual reproduction of a living room. It fit the tenor of the production well.  I thank all those at Theatre Exile for bringing SATURN RETURNS to life.

At a talk back after the one hour play was over, I was surprised at the youth of Playwright Noah Haidle.  He says that he used feeling is his own life and projected them on to years to come.  He has written a poetic and touching play.  This is only the forth production of SATURN RETURNS.   Many in the sparsely attended audience found the cathartic values of his work very satisfying.  I am among them.  

by Noah Haidle
Directed by Brenna Geffers
through May 22, 2011
Theatre Exile
at Christ Church Neighborhood House
20 N. American St
Philadelphia PA



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