Steve Little plays acoustic guitar with easy panache, sings pleasingly and tells stories culled from years of performing in assisted-living facilities — particularly on the Alzheimer’s floors.
You might want to have a tissue handy, because what the hour-long “Dementia Melodies” lacks in edginess, it makes up for in sentiment.
The Capital Fringe Festival show’s hopeful subtitle, “It Ain’t Over ’Til It’s Over,” reflects Little’s theme. He has seen old people with dead eyes have the glint of life restored through music. Music memory, he argues, doesn’t shrivel along with other cognitive functions. In a series of stories delivered in an easy, conversational style, he gives examples.
He also intersperses tunes of his devising, along with others he has borrowed, such as Stephen Sondheim’s backward-gazing “The Road You Didn’t Take” from “Follies.”
From time to time, Little uses doll puppets (designed by Ingrid Crepeau) to illustrate. These are no larger than your average Barbie and include three old women seated on a tiny couch. If that image seems cute or patronizing, the stories are not. Often vivid and frequently moving, they give the show its low-key kick, its big heart and a few good laughs.
Little recalls the seemingly paralyzed woman who kept time with one finger as he performed and who eked out a tear when he told her,“I see you in there!” He tells of a cranky old general who finally opened up on Veterans Day and of a woman who found a new artistic life on the Alzheimer’s floor.
“This is not a dementia ward. It’s a garden of reminiscence,” Little says.
It’s hard to reject his happier scenario and easy to wish that Little was the guy entertaining your folks.
Horwitz is a freelance writer.
written and performed by Steve Little. 60 minutes. Through Thursday at Capital Fringe Festival. Go to www.capfringe.org.