A ‘Final Toast’ is Both Humorous and Poignant as it Tackles Topic of Aging in Play Set to Open Off Broadway on May 10

A two-act play involves four actresses–Jana Robbins, Jolie Curtsinger, Joy Franz, and Sachi Parker–who all have strong resumes.

| 29 Apr 2024 | 09:32

No, this off-Broadway show is not a celebration of the world of vintners. Nor is it a comedy, though the playwright, Michele A. Miller, is known for finding humor in the darkest of places including the topics of depression and abuse. The subjects in “Final Toast” include mothers and daughters, budding dementia, assisted living, and yes, Judaism. So, get out your hankies, buckle up, and make your way to the Chain Theatre.

Like many other playwrights, Miller’s latest was birthed during Covid: in her case, watching elderly people losing contact with their families for different reasons.

“It was during a time when older people were feeling particularly isolated,” she says. “It hit a lot of buttons for me. I also realized there are so many excellent older actresses not being able to show their skill. So, I ended up with four characters: two elderly mothers and two daughters who now must take care of the women who raised them.”

Other issues will also resonate: One of the daughters is a “professional house organizer,” which will remind many of a certain age how they (I could say we) cleaned out homes after parents were either moved to a facility, or had passed away.

“My parents are of that age and a lot of their friends are,” says Miller. “Of course, there are physical issues: they are frailer and their ears and eyes don’t work as well. And then there’s early Alzheimers. But all these people, in the play and in our lives—have great stories about interesting lives to tell if we would only listen.”

The two-act play cleverly finds a way for the four characters to end up in a similar place: that being a senior living center. Friendships are made and tensions arise as past experiences surprisingly come into play. And did I mention the Jewish component? “One family is Jewish,” says Miller, who has also written on that subject before. “The issue of assimilation is dealt with, as is anti-Semitism. “Unfortunately, that subject is very relevant,” she says. While some are trying to forget, one character here is trying to renew her heritage.”

There are big twists, eventually, resulting from past incidents of prejudice, and deep pain. But the key words here are resilience, survival, responsibility and yes, deep love.

The four actresses in the play–Jana Robbins, Jolie Curtsinger, Joy Franz, and Sachi Parker–all have strong resumes. (Parker is also the daughter of Shirley Maclaine) “They are so talented and don’t get enough opportunities to show it,” says Miller.

Jana Robbins says this play is nothing less than a gift. “There’s a million reasons why this play speaks to me, beginning with the fact I was extremely close to my own mother,” she says. “I brought her to live with me, which she did for the last seven years of her life.” (Her mother died at 100) The actress and producer (she brought Joel Grey’s Yiddish “Fiddler”) adds, “Now I am older and get to experience the mother-daughter relationship in a new way. I certainly don’t think you have to be Jewish to relate here, but with everything going on in the world, it feels like ‘here we go again.’”

Jolie Curtsinger also has nothing but positive things to say about this experience. “First of all, I love working on new plays.” she says. “Fresh perspectives and new voices can breathe new life into universal stories. It makes the process so much more personal and adds nuance to our storytelling. I love that this play is women-driven, from the cast to the writer and director. It really hits home. I am a Jew, and have an aging mother. So fundamentally, I have a lot to explore from my own life. And with the events on October 7th and since, its revelatory to present a piece that exists in the time just before these fresh traumas. History does repeat itself, and so does hope. I believe the themes of this play are relatable to most-identity and what we draw from our family, ancestral traumas, and love and loss.”

Amen to that.

A Final Toast” plays at the Chain Theater May 10-26, 310 W. 36th St.