‘Empty Nesters’ looks at couple at crossroads

A middle-aged couple on the brink, figuratively and literally, light up “The Empty Nesters,” a funny, warm and easy-to-relate-to play onstage at Z Space.

The fact that a real-life husband and wife play the couple in Garret Jon Groenveld’s three-scene, one-act dramedy adds to the appeal of the piece, which premiered last year presented by the San Francisco new work incubator, PlayGround.

John Walker and Pamela Gaye Walker, who took a two-decade break from acting together before reuniting in “Empty Nesters,” play Greg and Fran, who make a stop at the Grand Canyon on the way back home from dropping their daughter off at college.

The course of the just-over-an-hour show revolves around the talk they have as they wait to go on the Skywalk — a 3,000-feet-above-the-ground glass attraction on which visitors wear cloth booties and enjoy amazing views — and the more involved conversations that follow in a coffee shop, and their hotel room.

While in line to go on the bridge, Fran drops what Greg thinks is a bomb, when she tells him she’s thinking of leaving him.
He’s flummoxed, and his reaction, it seems, is part of what she sees as their problem: He doesn’t notice when she’s not OK, even though she never says so.

That line of discussion (clearly familiar to the opening-night audience), Fran’s sadness that her daughter hasn’t called (in a day), their fears about the future, and their sex life (or lack thereof), comprise the show’s realistic, if occasionally sit-com like, dialogue.

Directed by Richard Seyd, the actors seemed forced at the outset on Wednesday’s opening, but by the end they were empathetic and quite believable.

There are no twists or wild complications in the compact show, which has catchy sound and scenery, including colorful yet subtle animated projections (of the waiting area, a café sign and the canyon view).

The excellence of the design may have something to do with the fact that John Walker, in addition to acting, is a film producer, of modern animated classics such as “The Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles.”

REVIEW

The Empty Nesters
Where: Z Below, 470 Florida St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; closes June 11
Tickets: $30 to $58
Contact: (866) 811-4111, www.zspace.org

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