The older actors in Perseverance Theatre’s latest play aren’t there to provide token rappin’ granny jokes or crack off-color commentary from the sidelines. They are the show.
“With,” which is making its world premiere Friday at the theater, is a play entirely centered on an elderly couple who have reached the end of their lives. But, they still have to contend with everyday contrivances — folding sheets, getting rid of the rat in their kitchen — that get in the way of their shuffle off the mortal coil.
“There’s ageism obviously, and we’re very fortunate (playwright) Carter Lewis wrote these well-drawn, three-dimensional, passionate, loving, funny characters who are our age,” said Angelina Fiordellisi, who portrays Minnie — one half of the play’s central couple.
Charlie Cardwell, a Perseverance Theatre veteran with hearing impairment, portrays Clifford in the play, and joined Fiordellisi for an interview. He said the quality of the script and a love of acting make it well worth it to power through the complications caused by his hard hearing.
“I love doing it,” Cardwell said. “When you get a play like this, the words are just beautiful. I love telling stories this way. I enjoy the hell out of it.”
The play also presents a new challenge to the longtime Juneau actor.
“Every play that I’ve ever been in, I’m on stage for a period of time, then I go off, and other people do their thing, and then I come on and do my thing,” Cardwell said. “That ain’t the case with this. It’s just the two of us.”
That’s somewhat simplified by a strong rapport between the co-stars who spoke glowingly of each other.
“He’s so terrific,” Fiordellisi said of Cardwell. “He could hold his own against any actors in New York that I’ve seen.”
Cardwell said the play would be a nightmare if he didn’t get along with his on-stage partner, who he praised effusively.
“She is one of the most giving actors on stage,” Cardwell said of Fiordellisi. “Angelina is a wonderfully, wonderfully open actor, and she really makes it easy to work on stage.”
However, that doesn’t mean bringing the moribund pair to life is entirely pleasant. The actors said “With” asks them to touch on difficult personal feelings.
“As we age, we become richer in our emotional breadth and depth, and when you go about living your daily life, you don’t go digging down into your guts,” Fiordellisi. “There’s a lot of digging around in our guts in here to bring forth what’s appropriate in a moment for a character, and that can be painful, but I think we’ve been around the block long enough to know how to contain that and where to place it and use it appropriately.”
The characters also grapple with weighty and universal concerns.
“They are outrageously funny sometimes, but at the same time, the things they’re dealing with in their lives are questions we all have to face,” Cardwell said. “We’re going to die, how are we going to die? How do we end our lives? How do we deal with tragedy in our lives? Those are difficult questions to answer and difficult questions to deal with for anybody.”
Aside from its atypical protagonists, “With” bucks convention in the way it depicts a longtime relationship. Minnie and Cliff don’t nurse barely hidden contempt for one another. They’re a non-toxic couple with a lot of shared experience.
“It’s really a love story, it really is,” Fiordellisi said. “It’s people who have been through so much together, and they still really love each other, and that part is really beautiful.”
The play’s heart is what the two actors said will stick with audiences.
“Yeah there’s humor, but there’s also some wonderfully, wonderfully, tender, close moments of two people who have lived together for 60 years,” Cardwell.
Know & Go
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until Dec. 15. 4 p.m. on Sundays. Instead of a Thursday, Nov. 28 show, there will be a performance Wednesday, Nov. 27 and Wednesday, Dec. 11.
Where: Perseverance Theatre, 914 Third St., Douglas.
Admission: General admission costs $35-$45. There is a pay-as-you-can preview Thursday, Nov. 21 and pay-as-you-can performances Nov. 24 and Nov. 27.