The Happy Hollow Nursing Home atmosphere appears more hollow than happy.
That is, until carefree 83-year-old resident Clara begins taking hula lessons, playing poker and staging séances.
Then, everyone seems to rise from the dead and the doldrums.
“She’s a go-getter kind of out to prove that the simple desire to enjoy yourself and have fun doesn’t fade just because you have a few years on you,” said actress Lisa Barrett, who plays Clara.
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The silliness and serendipity take center stage in the Actors Studio of Hope comedy “Spirit,” which opens April 21 at the 100-seat Willow Leaves of Hope. Clara also helps shine a light on her nursing home cohorts’ pre-retirement lives before their surroundings seemed to make them partially invisible to the rest of the world.
Co-director Naomi Fleetwood Pyle plays Esther, a retired veterinarian with a touch of dementia. She has replaced a life with real animals with a bed full of stuffed animals, and strikes up an unconventional friendship with Clara.
Pyle, who is 68, laughed about playing someone still significantly older.
“In my brain, I am still 35 years old,” Pyle said. “But this looks at aging in a very humorous light.”
Plus, she has played in enough local comedies in the past five years to have found a niche, thanks in part to her naturally extroverted and exuberant nature as a clogging performer and teacher worldwide.
Friend and co-director Pete Law also finds himself as Joe, a 75-year-old former longshoreman and current nursing home resident.
“I’ve changed my body position when I move,” said Law, known for high-energy, one-man shows locally. “And I’ve definitely learned to walk a little slower.”
But he applauds the cast at moving along the play’s humor at a solid pace. He and Pyle extend special kudos to Debi Davey, using her real-life British accent to put a stiff and authoritarian air on her role as the nursing home administrator who believes that rules are rules and restrictions are a way of life.
Law hatched the idea to shape that character in the mold of Nurse Ratched from the 1975 film, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” So Davey, who never had seen the movie, watched it recently.
She’s confident she can carry off such sternness.
“Would you like to talk to my boss?” she asked with a laugh. “Actually, I can be pretty adept at these things.”
Davey understands that this production is generally unknown, especially compared to such nationally award-winning works as “Steel Magnolias” that drew 700 people three years ago for a Pyle-led Hope dinner show.
“But I think we will draw good numbers,” Davey said. “And we think that some people may come because of the work that we have done before.”
The idea of the impact of the past becomes a significant theme in “Spirit.” That is aptly summarized in a classic line from the central character of Clara when she quips, “We each create our own legacy.”
And perhaps line it with laughter along the way.
What: Actors Studio of Hope presents the comic play “Spirit” in a dinner theater format.
When: Doors open at 5:30 p.m., dinner at 6 p.m., play at 7 p.m. April 21, 22 and 28-29; doors open at 12:30 p.m., dinner at 1 p.m., play at 2 p.m. April 23 and 30.
Where: Willow Leaves of Hope, 326 Jackson St. in Hope.
Tickets: $25, including dinner.
For reservations call: 812-546-0640.