A healthy society should forgive the indulgences of middle age, acknowledging the contributions of a productive life while overlooking any third-quarter regrets.
But as Jennifer Childs points out in her one-woman I Will Not Go Gently at People’s Light, today’s society wastes its time in narcissistic pursuits and ephemeral pleasures. The next generation will get no forgiveness in a midlife that follows the day-to-day Insta-documenting of the mundane.
Childs’ show kicks off as Sierra Mist (the aging rock star, not the soft drink) promotes a new album and comeback tour after two decades’ absence from the music scene. Sierra’s early work in punk (songs composed by Christopher Colucci) has influenced an entire era of musicians. But today, the e-journalist sent to cover her tour for his e-magazine knows little beyond the current pop-music scene.
In vignettes, the evening moves forward from one character’s monologue to another, focusing next on Abby, Sierra’s frumpy, middle-aged super-fan, who hosts a late-night podcast delving into the anxieties that rob her of sleep. Her social-media-entranced daughter Tabitha ridicules mom’s obsession with some old punk rocker, and Abby questions the choices, memories, and likes (real, not social media) that brought her to this point in life.
Here, Childs indulges too much, both in content and characters. Abby invites sympathy but her generic experiences earn little, and Childs tempers Abby’s self-awareness with a clichéd college reunion scene of alums more intent on hiding their pasts than questioning them. These stretches show off Childs’ talent for nuance and dialect but do little to address the existential issues the title evokes (it stems from Dylan Thomas’ poem “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night”).
Lily Fossner’s lighting ably creates a concert venue, motivational speaker platform, and pair of bedrooms from Lance Kniskern’s tiered set. Jorge Cousineau lends some comical multimedia pieces, including a full music video of Sierra Mist’s hit “Jack in the Box,” replete with stirring guitars and Childs’ rocking vocals.
But as a comedy written originally for 1812 Productions, it offers few laughs. The funniest bit is that of Abby’s 90-year-old grandmother doing her first stand-up bit, bashing millennials and geezers alike. Childs wrote this at the same age of her characters, prompting the question of whether indulgence here is due. For more than 20 years, she, her company (1812), and her original works have helped drive the resurgence and growth of theater in Philadelphia. For those accomplishments, this indulgence needs no forgiveness.
I Will Not Go Gently
Through April 15 at People’s Light, 39 Conestoga Road, Malvern. Tickets: $39-$82. Information: 610-644-3500, peopleslight.org.