Just saw this tonight. The play and actors are so special. It really took me on an emotional journey with all the feels. Bravo!
Golden Years: Purple Rose Theatre's "Jukebox for the Algonquin" focuses on seniors living and loving
Billed as “a serious comedy about sex, drugs, and rocking chairs,” Paul Stroili’s Jukebox for the Algonquin transpires at Placid Pines, a senior living community in the Adirondack region of New York, circa 2003.
This Purple Rose Theatre Company world premiere, which runs July 7-September 2, features characters who hail from the boroughs of New York City. They now find themselves removed from their usual surroundings and the people they loved, but they are ready to accept new challenges—even to create them.
Audiences may recognize playwright Stroili from his first-rate performances on the Rose stage—God of Carnage, Welcome to Paradise, and Watson in David MacGregor’s Sherlock Holmes series—or from TV appearances on Empire, Chicago P.D., Undercover Bridesmaid, and more.
Stroili says his venture into playwriting was “born of adversity.” He was booking roles in Los Angeles only sporadically and decided to write something for himself. Straight Up With a Twist enjoyed more than 1,000 performances nationwide and culminated in a twice-extended Off-Broadway run.
When his one-man play took off, so did Stroili. The slew of successful bookings for Straight Up should have pleased him as he toured the country, but Stroili found himself missing the camaraderie of other actors.
“I took a break from playwriting. There wasn’t anything that moved me enough, so I didn’t write much for a long stretch,” Stroili says. He went back to acting until COVID-19 hit and theaters closed.
Then he started thinking about a nursing home he had worked at one summer when he was in high school. “I remember that period of time so fondly,” he says.
The elderly folks he encountered were “not only fascinating but ridiculously funny and witty and sarcastic. I expected to be around a lot of old people, and I was around people who had lived longer and wanted to live as joyfully as possible.”
He thought about the need for connection he had experienced on the road. What was it like to end up with strangers? How would these people form a community? And his poignant comedy began to take shape.
For Jukebox for the Algonquin, Suzi Regan directs a cast of pros: Susan Angelo, Wallace Bridges, Ruth Crawford, Mark Colson, MaryJo Cuppone, Ethan May, and John Seibert. She says the characters gave her a sense of a rascal gang, not unlike the witty participants of the Algonquin round table, which met for lunch regularly at the luxurious hotel in New York.
Here, the characters enjoy each other and are “trying to be creative within the structure of the facility,” says Regan.
The scenes are set in a common room, and Regan felt “it was important to establish a life to the room, which is excluded from the rest of the facility. The room is off the beaten path, and they gravitate toward it for comfort. It’s not easy for people who have canes or walkers or wheelchairs to get to it [but] this group is not just surviving but fighting and thriving. They are playing together for connection and to stay thinking and critical and active,” she says.
They are also working together for a common goal. And what they want, as it happens, is a jukebox, a vintage jukebox, an expensive vintage jukebox. How they go about trying to get it is the central action of the play.
Regan thought that just as the people had a history before they came to this place, the place itself had a history.
“I suggested and Paul liked the idea that Placid Pines was an older building and campus that had been refit, reused, recycled, reinvented for a community of people who were doing the same at this point in their lives," she says. "Paul suggested an old nursing college. ... In the background, we can sense the pulse of that.”
Stroili is “excited to be doing this play at the Purple Rose. I know how much care they take with new work,” says the actor-playwright who also participated in the first weeks of rehearsal. “I wrote a script, and it won’t be a play until they get their hands on it."
He marvels at “the collective energy—the actors, designers, and crew to the administration people who join together in one goal, [creating the best possible production]. It’s such an honor.”
Jukebox for the Algonquin ends a season of Michigan and world premieres for the Purple Rose, leading into the theater's 2023-4 season that includes new works by David MacGregor and Carey Crim. It opens with a revival—rare for the Rose, but this is special: Jeff Daniels’ Diva Royale, which sent audiences into stitches during its 2018 run. It will feature its original cast, and this time, for the first time at his theater, Daniels will direct.
Davi Napoleon is a theater historian and arts feature writer and critic.
“Jukebox for the Algonquin” is in previews from July 7, opens July 14, and runs until September 2 at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, Chelsea. For tickets and further information, visit purplerosetheatre.org.