When local actor, director and writer Bill Waxman learned of a volunteer committee’s unusual efforts at a retirement community in Palm Springs, he decided he must write a play about it, and The Coot Elimination Committee is the result.
Waxman also directs its debut at Carpinteria’s historic Plaza Playhouse Theater. Coming in at a compact one hour and 20 minutes, this original play is long on laughs but also addresses deeper topics and has plenty of heart.
As the central characters, Tim Whitcomb (Mike) and Deborah Helm (Martha) have wonderful chemistry and play off each other well, with many funny moments. As we learn more about the complexities beneath the surface of their lives, we find that they are not your average old married couple.
Whitcomb’s easygoing manner and style in the character of Mike is reminiscent of Owen Wilson. Mike starts out as largely confounded by life, but when eventually given a chance to rise to the occasion, he does not disappoint.
As Martha, Helm is poised, often dismissive of Mike, and used to getting her way, yet capable of showing her vulnerable side.
Ed Giron is exceptional as Karl, their German neighbor, and his stomping and fussing about provide many comic moments in the first half. Giron’s thick accent sounds completely authentic, and when he bursts into flurries of German you would swear he was a native speaker.
As Mary Beth, the leader of the title committee, Julie Allen is all business yet irrepressibly pleased with herself, which proves to be a fun combination to watch.
Jerry Oshinsky is solid as Dr. Swift, and Char Smith is strong and largely silent as the handsome grocery delivery boy. Stuart Orenstein and Sandy McOwen appear briefly as government agents, lending a decidedly official air to the proceedings.
While the subject matter veers suddenly into some very dark places in the second half, feeling just a bit out of place, the overall tone is humorous and warm with entertaining commentary at aging and life in our modern world.
Also, watch for Mike’s joke about the sharks — it got perhaps the biggest laugh on opening night and is well worth repeating.
The Coot Elimination Committee runs through May 17. Tickets are available by clicking here.
— Justine Sutton is a Santa Barbara freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer. The opinions expressed are her own.