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"My Old Lady"

From left to right: Wini Kovacik as Mathilde, Tom Haig as Mathias, and Melinda Croft as Chloé rehearse a scene from "My Old Lady." The play will have performances Saturday and Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre. 

Mike Aronson, the founder of the Majestic Reader's Theatre, says he usually opts to direct romantic plays involving relationships between older people.

"Each one has an element of love that is culturally unexpected," he said. "That's what makes the drama."

His newest directorial effort, "My Old Lady," definitely fits that criteria.

The romantic-comedy, written by Israel Horovitz, will have a performance Saturday night and two performances Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre. The play was adapted into a 2014 film starring Kevin Kline, Maggie Smith and Kristin Scott Thomas.

The story follows Mathias, an unsuccessful American writer who is down on his luck. He receives a letter from an attorney saying that his recently deceased father has left him an apartment in Paris overlooking the Luxembourg Gardens.

Mathias, played by Tom Haig, has just enough money for a one-way plane ticket, and is hoping he can quickly flip the apartment and become rich.

Unfortunately, the apartment is occupied by 90-year-old Mathilde (Wini Kovacik) and her daughter, Chloé (Melinda Croft). Mathias' father bought the apartment from Mathilde more than 35 years before, with the expectation that he could move in when she died.

Part of the arrangement was that her expenses would be paid by the owner until her death.

"So, it turns out Mathias doesn't own an asset, he owns a debt," Aronson said.

The first part of the play gets audiences involved in the comedy of the relationships between these three people, Aronson said.

The second half is a little more dramatic as a relationship between Chloé and Mathias develops.

Aronson appreciates the qualities his experienced cast members bring to these roles.

Kovacik, 85, is a community theater veteran from Ohio, who moved to Corvallis to live closer to her child, Aronson said. She appeared in the Majestic Reader's Theatre season-opening production, "The Cemetery Club," in September.

"She has just got so much sparkle to portray this woman who is very much in charge of her life at 90," Aronson said.

Haig was a walk-in to the auditions but brought plenty of  acting experience.

Croft spent two weeks in Europe last summer to practice speaking French. An artist as well as an actor, she made a papier-mache prop of a boar's head for the production. In the play, Chloé's father was a big-game hunter, and the room Mathias stays in is full of trophies, including the boar's head on the wall.

"It's always staring at him all night. It becomes the fourth character of the play," Aronson said.

Aronson said audiences don't need to understand French to enjoy the story, but language and accents play a role in the production.

Mathilde and Chloé are French, so when the performers, Kovacik and Croft, speak to Mathias in English they use French accents.

The problem is, when the two women are alone together, they would be speaking French to each other, not English with an accent. Aronson directed them to speak to each other in English without an accent when Haig is not on stage.

"The audience will suppose they are speaking Parisian French to each other," he said.

Ironically, Haig speaks French fluently, but "he's got to be an American who speaks French horribly and it's hard for him," Aronson said.

Aronson said "My Old Lady" shows people why they shouldn't judge others by only what they can see on the surface.

"We all have a story, and until you sit still and listen to the story, you can't be in their shoes. If you can't be in their shoes you will have no empathy for them," he said.

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