As I’ve been thinking about growing old gracefully, examples pop up everywhere I look.
Today, I visited the historic house where Valerie is on the Board. The Ward-Heitman House is the oldest in West Haven, built around 1684. Unlike so many historic homes that find themselves in the way, this one has been allowed to age gracefully in place. It hasn’t been moved or changed since the early 20th Century.
The house even survived the Revolutionary War when the British attacked West Haven, seemingly because the owners were Loyalists and Church of England. Ultimately, they were on the losing side, of course, My guide didn’t comment if that’s why there was a change of ownership.
The house was built as a stock 2-over-2, two rooms down, two rooms up, until later generations added on for their own purposes. Louisa Ward married a Heitmann, merging the two families in the house. While her seafaring brothers (and husband?) were at sea, she decided to build an addition, a proverbial one-room schoolhouse, called a “Dame’s School.” I don’t have a good explanation for the term, but we can speculate.
At the same time, out of one of the original downstairs rooms from the 2×2 days, the owners ran boutique businesses, first an antiques store, then a tea room. Not at all uncommon in the early 20th century and through the Depression.
The Ward-Heitmann House seems to have a lot of unanswered questions from its history, but A.R. Gurney wraps up all the questions in his play “Love and Money” quite neatly. In its current production at the Westport Country Playhouse, the program quotes Gurney, now 84 years old, as thinking this was his last play. But, he states, the old saying is that Jews say goodbye and then don’t leave, so he’s going to become Jewish and write a couple more. Power to him!
And this one has legs, moving after tonight’s performance to Signature Theatre Off Broadway, to open with the same cast and set at the end of the month. Signature is happy to call it their Wold Premier, even as it started here in Connecticut.
“Love and Money” addresses issues Gurney seems to have on him mind–principally, how to be a WASP, as he and his lead character self-define, in an ever-diversifying America. With his trademark, gentle humor and tight, fast-paced writing, he does it again. Gives us a smartly-conceived, easy-to-swallow take on a big question.
Cornelia, the character at the heart of this play, has certainly aged with verve, as you’ll see in this video, and the actor Maureen Anderman had a great moment of sharp ad lib.
At one point, the lights went completely off. The stage was utterly dark. Anderman said, “I guess we forgot to pay the light bill.” It was so in character that the audience laughed appreciatively and waited for the play to continue.
Until we learned it wouldn’t. Some quirk in the lighting board had to be reset, not a new problem at the theater apparently. The actors had left the stage, and we were entertained by the stage manager with a congenial to-and-fro with the audience, until the lights were back in order. Then the play picked up just as it left off, not a beat missed, all clearly pros.
Plot-wise, while I was thinking, “uh oh, here comes ‘Six Degrees of Separation’,” Gurney allows Cornelia to out-con the con and have great fun with everyone doing it. She sums up his apparent philosophy at the end. She ad libs again, this time in character, about their dinner party for the evening, with a diverse group of guests “who will all do the dishes.” The play ends as she declares it an opportunity for everyone to get along just fine.
And so she does, and the Ward-Heitmann House does, and we do, too. Get along just fine, as we age with grace.