The costs of growing old: RLT’s ‘A Facility for Living’ confronts realities of aging in America

My friends and I joke a lot about aging. We commiserate about the back spasms caused by merely loading the dishwasher and the stray gray hairs that crop up in our eyebrows. We laugh and say, “Retirement? What’s that? Who can afford to do that?”—only we’re not really joking.

Aging is not for the weak, especially not here in America, a country that seems to disdain the old and worship the young and new. It’s easier to laugh about that future than seriously contemplate it, because for many of us, the future does not seem bright.

Reno Little Theater’s current production, A Facility for Living by Katie Forgette, beautifully illustrates how our fears about aging are well-founded. Similar to the film Idiocracy, this play conjures up an imagined future that is disturbingly easy to believe. Yet it’s more uplifting than depressing; there’s still plenty to laugh about.

In this not-too-distant future, the Senior Provision Act (SPA) has been enacted, under the presidency of a reanimated Dick Cheney. The SPA accomplished a few horrifying things: It eliminated Medicare, and required that all medical care, treatments and supplies for conditions “caused” by the patient (such as obesity or tobacco use) were paid for exclusively by the patient. Because of the sheer number of Baby Boomers in need of senior housing, the nation’s correctional facilities were emptied of inmates (who were “outsourced”) and converted to senior care facilities.

In one such place—SPA Facility 273—head nurse Claudia (played by Jessica Johnson) runs an extraordinarily tight ship. With the help of her orderly, Kevin (Patrick Mink), and a robot or two, she brusquely admits, dispenses medication to, cleans, feeds, governs and chastises the miserable seniors in their care. The building’s sole TV station runs a loop of “suitable” promotional content and Ronald Reagan films. Talking is only allowed at limited times during the day, and gatherings are strictly prohibited due to fire codes.

When a new resident, former actor Joe Taylor (James Winkler), checks in, he receives a rude awakening to the indignities of life under the SPA. His fellow residents include Wally (Kevin Michael), whose obesity-caused ailments and hearing difficulties have made him an object of derision among the staff; Mitzi (Terri Gray), a former nurse who fancies herself a member of the care team; and Judy (Wendy Feign), a bitter realist who uses sarcasm as a coping mechanism.

After getting the lay of the land in this dehumanizing facility, Joe realizes that the only thing worse would be a life without hope. At his urging, the gang at Facility 273 comes up with a plan to buck the system (and Nurse Claudia)—and regain a sense of purpose.

As I sat at Reno Little Theater watching a final rehearsal of the show, I felt a lot of things—fear of my own mortality, worry about political maneuvers that affect seniors, and concern for my own aging parents, to start. But also, I laughed. We all did that night.

If we could find so much of that bleak future portrayed on stage ridiculous and laughable, maybe we’ll be OK, right? It definitely offers a lot to think about.

Reno Little Theater’s production of A Facility for Living is performed at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Oct. 15, at 147 E. Pueblo St. Tickets are $28, with discounts. For more information, call 775-813-8900, or visit