Sentiment runs high in decades old play at ACT

Alpena Civic Theatre invites its audiences to take a step back in time with its touching fantasy drama, “On Borrowed Time.” Written in the 1930s, the nearly 80-year-old play recalls sentiments of days gone by as an orphan boy affectionately called Pud is left in the care of his elderly grandparents.

The show marks the final one for Director Chip Lavely, who came to Alpena in 2002 as the artistic director at Thunder Bay Theatre, where he directed 14 shows before transitioning to Alpena Civic Theatre. Altogether he has either directed, performed in or designed sets for an estimated 25 different shows here; however, after the conclusion of the current production at ACT, he plans to step aside permanently from working in theatre for health reasons.

Lavely chose this swan song show after seeing the movie, reading the book and script, and then falling in love with “On Borrowed Time.” Not only did he select this vintage piece to go out on, but he also chose just the right people for the show’s various roles.

Dan Nordenbrock nails Pud’s crotchety old Gramps, both with mannerisms and characterization. Young Davin Kuznicki also comes off quite convincing as the grandson who worships his grandfather even if it means imitating Gramp’s rascally ways and salty language.

Like Nordenbrock, Janet Romas fits the bill as Pud’s Granny. She and Gramps continuously butt heads, but underneath it all runs a current of love. One source of the old couple’s exasperation with one another has to do with Aunt Demetria, the scheming relative with her sights set on custody of Pud and the inheritance left him in the wake of his parents’ untimely death. Karen Thompson is right up there with the rest of the cast in making us a believer in her self-righteous, conniving character.

Where the show deviates from being simply a sweet but straight drama is with the appearance of the Grim Reaper in the form of Mr. Brink, who comes to take Gramps from the land of the living despite his protestations. ACT newcomer Andrew MacNeill gives a good turn as the shadowy Mr. Brinks, who Gramps and Pud manage to render helpless for a time. Then on come the doctor (Scott Edgar), an attorney (Rick Mesler), the head of an insane asylum (Patrick Skiba) and the sheriff (Doug Niergarth), all in cahorts against Gramps. Not to give anything away, but there’s an unusual apple tree and a bit of fantasy involved before the story wraps it all up in heart-tugging fashion.

Amanda Hulsey as the kind caregiver, Tom Robson as the workman and young Logan DenBleyker as an apple stealing tyke round out the cast.

All the action takes place indoors and outdoors at the rural home of Gramps and Granny. Besides directing the show, Lavely also designed the handsome set that comes complete with a climbable apple tree. Credit also goes to Mary Ann Crawford and Virginia Hulsey for the fetching costumes as well as to Jay Kettler for the lighting design.

At two hours in length, the show definitely provides a couple of tear jerk moments and some lingering questions about death and saying goodbye to loved ones. It’s nice to see Lavely and ACT resurrect this old-time gem that both played on Broadway and became a movie.

Remaining performances are this week only, Thursday to Sunday. For reservations, call the ACT box office at 354-3624.