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A Sensitive and Dignified 'Old Settler' in Long Beach

May 19, 2000|JANA J. MONJI

John Henry Redwood's "The Old Settler" conjures up Harlem in the 1940s and a woman caught by sacrifice and time. In this production at Long Beach Playhouse's Studio Theatre, Valerie Ludwig is luminous as an older woman who finds late-blooming love with Henry Gilmore's youthful backwoods innocent.

Bess (Ludwig) came north to New York City to work, sending money south to her mother and her sister, Quilly (Robyn Hastings). After her mother's death, Quilly temporarily joins her but soon marries. Bess has been living alone, in this cheery, golden-rod-yellow apartment (set design by Eugene McDonald) with stylishly curved woodwork.

In the spring of 1943, she takes in a boarder, Husband (Gilmore), who's come north to look for his girlfriend, Lou Bessie (Paula Brown). Quilly has unexpectedly moved back in with Bess, creating an uncomfortable threesome.

Lou Bessie is a shrill floozy, ready to use Husband to her best advantage. Costume designer Donna Fritsche attires her in cheap glamour, contrasting her with the sensibly stylish Bess.

Bess is a giver; she reaches out to protect Husband and her sister. Ludwig's face softens, and she glows and titters with sweet, girlish joy as she falls for Gilmore's awkward but sincere hick. Hastings' Quilly is sullenly selfish as she frets about being left alone.

Steven Fiorillo directs with sensitivity, never veering into melodrama. Instead, there's a sense of quiet dignity and aching loss.

*

* "The Old Settler," Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach. Fridays and Saturdays, 8 p.m.; May 28, 2 p.m. Ends June 3. $12 to $15. (562) 494-1616. Running time: 2 hours.

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