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A CurtainUp Review
Black Tie


They say that different generations can never agree about music or clothes.— Curtis's Father.

Except occasionally evening clothes.— Curtis.

. . .Thank God we still agree on that. Because what we're striving for here is a sense of continuity, isn't it, Curtis? Of course we are. Continuity. Father to son to grandson, passing things on. .Even in awkward circumstances, when we're entertaining people we don't know, in surroundings we don't like, with music we can't abide, we can still make it black tie. Isn't that the point, Curtis? — Curtis's Father, whose tuxedo complete with cummerbund and black tie, Curtis plans wear at the rehearsal dinner.
Black Tie
(Clockwise from Top) Gregg Edelman as Curtis, Ari Brand as Teddy, Elvy Yost as Else, Daniel Davis as Curtis's Father and , Carolyn McCormick as Mimi in Black Tie
(Photo Credit: James Leynse)
Leave it to A. R. Gurney, the theater's Playwright Laureate of American Wasp. life, to turn that favorite dramatic situation — a wedding— into a ghostly comedy of manners. If you don't check out your program before watching Mr. Gurney's spin through changing mating customs, John Arnone's set may seem rather un-Gurney like: too tacky to evoke the usual upscale Wasp-y living rooms typical of this playwright's family dramedies.

Mr. Gurney's latest and, as always, likeable and amusing White Anglo Saxon Protestants, Curtis (Gregg Edelman) and Mimi (Carolyn McCormick), haven't fallen on hard times during the Great Recession (a decidedly unfunny state of affairs likely to get its own play from the prolific playwright). They just happen to be in a room at a hotel in an Adirondack Mountain resort town where their son Teddy (Ari Brand) is getting married. The hotel's decor may be a notch below their upper middle class suburban Boston standards of taste but it's the only one large enough to accommodate all the guests for the wedding rehearsal dinner they are hosting.

The reason that Teddy and Maya (the much mentioned but never seen bride) are tying the knot in a Lake George bandstand rather than a church is that this is where they met and therefore the right locale for what they call a "destination wedding." Well, that's one of the reasons. You'll lose count of the pile-up of ways in which Teddy's journey from meeting to marrying Maya differs from his parents mating some thirty years earlier. Though by the time we first meet Curtis and Mimi they have already learned to leap over the cultural divide between them and the bride's family, their adaptability to unwelcome social changes is further tested each time their daughter Elsie (Elvy Yost) knocks on the door with another Guess Who's coming to This Rehearsal Dinner bombshell.

Teddy's wedding promised to be unconventional even before Elsie finds herself the messenger bringing news about changes in the evening's festivities. However, Curtis has come prepared to lend a touch of tradition to the party. After all it's his show since he's footing the bill. That special touch comes in the form of a tuxedo. Curtis has given his to the groom and plans to wear the suit and black tie that belonged to his late father.

No sooner does Curtis slip into his father's dinner jacket than his inner W.A.S.P. seems to possess him like a Dybbuk. What's more, good old, dead dad actually springs to life — a very robust and debonair ghost, in the person of Daniel Davis. Gurney watchers will immediately recognize a new incarnation of one of the playwright's greatest hits, Sylvia. Instead of a man and the cunning dog only he can see, we now have a whimsical father and son comedy about love and, yes, manners.

Guerney once again demonstrates his expertize at giving whimsical situations a distinctive and entertaining edge. His dialogue includes the usual sly digs at both sides of the political fence: Curtis's father is willing to bet $5 that he would find the best dancers at a Republican function. . .Mimi pooh-poohs her husband's concern about having a Jewish comedian they didn't invite perform, call them "Goyim" and make cracks about "Wasps being white bread and overprivileged and under-sexed").

Gurney uses the ghost gimmick as the framework for a coaching session in which the very literate father helps his son compose an appropriate rehearsal dinner speech, even as complication is tossed on top of complication to insure that there's no way for the rehearsal dinner — and for that matter, the marriage — to proceed as planned. Both Curtis and Mimi must deal with the nonstop surprises (Maya's global identity, a surprise guest from her past who threatens to upstage Curtis's dinner speech, a friend with special seating and dietary needs, suddenly voiced annoyance from the bride about, among other things, the black tie attire).

And what about the reaction of Curtis's father? Being as quick-witted as he is conservative, he's shocked but unfazed by what he overhears and manages to adapt his fatherly advice with each new revelation.

Of course none of this could work without a director to keep the surprises coming at full gallop and actors to handle these characters with wit and charm. Mark Lamos not only maintains the necessary pace but helps the playwright mine familiar themes and avoid it all coming off as too been there/done that. Happily the actors have wit and charm to spare.

Gregg Edelman is delightful as the very model of an increasingly less in charge father of the groom and Daniel Davis is deliciously hamm-y as the pompous, wit and wisdom spouting father and upholder of Old School tradition. Carolyn McCormick brings Kathryn Hepburn looks and flair to the role of Curtis's loving but more liberal and go-with-the-flow wife.

Elvy Yost as the involuntary go-between bringing news of the downstairs shenanigans upstairs to her parents room gets more stage time than her brother Teddy. However, Ari Brand gives new meaning to the "better late than never" cliche, in his brief but hilarious appearance near the end of the enjoyable 90 minutes. It would be nice if Mr. Gurney could write a follow-up focusing on Teddy, , perhaps having another kind of newfangled party, this one to celebrate his divorce from Maya?

Black Tie
by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Mark Lamos
Cast: Ari Brand (), Daniel Davis as (Curtis's Father), Gregg Edelman (Curtis) , Carolyn McCormick (Mimi), Elvy Yost (Elsie)
Set: John Arnone
Costumes: Jess Goldstein
Lighting: Stephen Strawbridge
Original Music & Sound: John Gramada
Stage Manager: Matthew Melchiorre
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with an intermission
Primary Stages 59E59 Street 212-279-4200
From 1/25/11; opening 2/08/11; closing 3/20/11
Tues to Sat at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at Feb. 4th press preview
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