Whisper Into My Good Ear features two old men sitting on a bench talking for about an hour. They talk about mortality. They talk about the indignities of aging bodies, loss of eyesight, declining hearing. They talk about the creeping onset of dementia. They talk, and they argue, and they jibe, and they joke, and they complain. There’s virtually no action.
It’s one of the more riveting shows of this year’s Capital Fringe Festival.
You can get a lot of mileage out of two men on a bench when the men in question are Lawrence Ripp and Patrick O’Brien. O’Brien is something of a CapFringe legend, his production of Underneath the Lintel (currently playing in rep with Whisper at the MLK Library) discussed among the all-time Fringe greats.
I haven’t seen Lintel yet but I now know something of why O’Brien has been considered such a Fringe force. His quiet, still, focused performance here as suicidal, secretive Max is a great foil to Ripp’s Charlie, making a last desperate stand in defiance of the dying of the light. The sharp character work is Whisper’s chief pleasure.
Whisper Into My Good Ear
Written by William Hanley
Details and tickets
William Hanley’s play was originally produced off-Broadway in the early 1960’s, and it says a lot about the progress of society that its themes of inadequate elder care, lack of economic security for retirees, the spread of Alzheimer’s, and the institutional persecution of sexual minorities are no longer relevant in 2016. Yay us!
(Turns on CNN, sees a few minutes of the Republican National Convention.)
Never mind. These themes are just as relevant now as they were then. So good on Minneapolis’s Vintage Players for resurrecting this little gem for contemporary audiences, with generally smooth directing work from O’Brien himself.
As a happy coincidence, immediately after the Tuesday performance of Whisper I walked to the next room over at the MLK Library and saw Spitball Theatre’s Normal/Magic. It made for a serendipitous pairing, illuminating the evolution of GLBTAQ characters in theatre over the course of those same 60 years of social progress. Normal/Magic’s punk rock vision of queer societal integration as matter-of-fact put Whisper’s remarkably insightful tragedy of mundane isolation in a starker light. Whisper is a quiet show by Fringe standards, but well worth seeking out.
Whisper Into My Good Ear by William Hanley. Directed by Patrick O’Brien. Presented by The Vintage Players . Reviewed by Ryan Taylor.