Birthday Candles is a Masterpiece

By Lori Perkins


This is my birthday week, and the first time in two years that I am able to celebrate it with people outside of my COVID bubble, so I thought it fortuitous that I received a promotional over-sized postcard from Roundabout Theater to see Debra Messing in a new play titled Birthday Candles. The postcard briefly described it as a tour through the life of a woman for 90 years of birthdays, which sold me.


But I really had no idea what the play was going to be about.


I am glad I didn’t, because it blew me away. All metaphorical candles were extinguished by the end of this 90-minute masterpiece!


The set is simple–an open kitchen where Ernestine Ashworth prepares her family’s signature birthday cake from her 17th birthday through her 107th as her life ebbs and flows around her. It’s funny and poignant and existential, a combination of adjectives I never thought I’d ever write in one sentence.


Messing, known for her Emmy Award-winning role in the sitcom Will & Grace, read Noah Haidle’s play, and said it reminded her of the classic Thornton Wilder play. “It’s a modern-day Our Town, about love and family, the fleeting nature of life, and the changes we experience that are ultimately out of our control.”


We meet Ernestine at 17 where she bursts on to the stage exclaiming, “I am going to be a rebel against the universe,” she says. “Wage war with the everyday.” Messing explained, “You see her as a 17-year-old, with dreams and plans and ambitions, and then life happens — love and marriage and disappointment and loss and beautiful surprises.”


Messing is amazing in this role that spans 90 years. She watched YouTube videos of older people to learn how to age her body language without any makeup. She is wonderful in this role, as are the other four actors who morph from her parents to her kids and grandchildren and husbands and suitors.


The play open on April 10 (previews now) and runs through May 29th. Don’t miss it!