As a volunteer and personal trainer at the Toscana Senior Center in Sparks, DeGregorio and his wife Penny crafted a play to take on serious issues about growing old, retirement, grandchildren and dealing with death.
After interviewing several seniors and reading notes, the DeGregorios crafted two hours of dialogue.
“I had aspirations to be the middle-weight champion of the world, so boxing was the vehicle of the play,” DeGregorio said. “It makes it possible to introduce the information we’ve collected.”
The presentation is tailor-made for senior citizens, but those of any age can gain insight into the emotional lives of our older neighbors. They’ve lived during the Great Depression, as one character talks about. Another character talks about how heartbreaking it is to be dependent on medication. Yet another struggles with the fact that he would rather kill himself than retire from his profession.
This is not a comedy by any stretch, and it wasn’t meant to be.
“This is more serious,” DeGregorio said. “The most cruel betrayal is aging.”
The Toscana Senior Center will be transformed into Foster’s Cafeteria, a restaurant that was located on 14th Street at Broadway in Oakland, Calif. Foster’s Cafeterias & Bakeries were located in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 20th century and were famous for Foster’s English Muffins. The last Foster’s Cafeteria was closed in 1972.
The cafeteria is a home-away-from-home for Babe, an active professional boxing manager; Johnny, a retired Oakland police officer; Hank, a retired University of California professor; and Stubby, a retired county maintenance worker. The characters are played by senior residents Vic Morelli, Duane Blume, Dave Read and Roger Hogan.
As the play takes place in the senior center’s social room, it only consists of a lunch table and four chairs, with the character actors reading at the table. Even without fancy props or curtains, the meaningful dialogue delivers.
Some who see “Foster’s Cafeteria” might be shocked at a few of the four-letter words thrown about by the characters, or the passionate manner in which they describe how strongly they hate life at times.
And, at some points, the dialogue did become preachy. But, this may be closer to the truth than some might want to think when it comes to how disenfranchised many of our older generation feels about life today. This just might strike a nerve for some. The tone is somber, defeated and a bit depressing at times, but it covers nearly every topic seniors face.
“I keep remembering who I was, not who I am. retirement might finish me off. I’m eating more, I’m drinking more ... I’ve done all the things I wanted to do,” Johnny said, at one point after being told by Babe that he should start boxing again at his age.
The one character who remains upbeat in retirement is Stubby, who continues to put it all on the line by eating donuts everyday and wagering on the horses. He is brow-beaten by his buddies but feels he might as well live happy as long as he can. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work out very well for him in the end.
“I gamble on a budget,” Stubby said. “When I lose, it doesn’t hurt. I just do it to stay alive for another day, not to own the horse track.”
Many will be surprised that this play is meant to make people think. Just once, no one is laughing or poking fun. No one is making a cheap joke.
The group plans to take the play to other area senior centers. No doubt those seniors will feel that they are better understood.
The Toscana Senior Center will perform the two-act play “Foster’s Cafeteria” at 1 p.m. Sunday at 2201 Meritage Drive in Sparks. Seating is limited, so call Rick DeGregorio at 354-1784 before attending.