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A CurtainUp Review
The Cocktail Hour
Like so much of Gurney's work The Cocktail Hour is about the life of traditional WASPs living in the Northeast, and Theater Breaking Through Barriers' production, directed by Ike Schambelan, is unstintingly proper, daffy and conventional in a way that is endearingly evocative of that dying American breed.
The particular cocktail hour Gurney presents is important because it marks a family crisis. John (Nicholas Viselli), an emerging playwright, has come home to ask his father's permission to produce a show that's all about the family's tics, as well as what makes it tick. The title of his play is The Cocktail Hour. It's a cute twist on Gurney's part, but one that is not without merit.
John's father, Bradley (the company's co-artistic director, George Ashiotis), an inept but well-connected businessman, is horrified. He can't understand why his son wants to expose the family skeletons by "fouling his own nest." John's mother, Ann, (Melanie Boland), a sweet, wealthy woman, who, one suspects, has traded a nonconformist nature for personal safety, would rather her son wrote a book, for reasons that are revealed toward the end of the play. And his self-righteous, long-suffering sister, Nina (Pamela Sabaugh) is frustrated because the play gives her a "supporting" rather than a primary role.
As more and more liquor is consumed, thanks to the incompetence of the newly hired cook, tongues are loosened and old grudges, repressed anger, secret longings and stifled hopes are revealed. John asks his parents why they never gave him the attention and love he craved. Nina discloses that she would really like to work training Seeing Eye dogs.
The cocktail hour reaches its climax when it is interrupted by a phone call from John and Nina's younger brother Jeeter. Nina and Bradley are now startled by the news that Jeeter is going to move to California and build ships. What's more, he has been aided and abetted by John. Those who appreciate Gurney's basically optimistic view of life will not be disappointed by the resolution.
If making John a playwright was Gurney's way of injecting The Cocktail Hour with a bit of personal history, it also permitted him to comment on the current state of theater. And he does this so slyly it's impossible to tell which side he's on. One hears comments on "noisy British musicals," plays that are filled with obscenities and nudity, and reviewers who have nothing better to do than sit around criticizing.
TBTB gives The Cocktail Hour a solid production that neither surprises nor disappoints. Boland is especially lovable as the somewhat ditsy Ann, and Viselli is an amiable lynchpin in the family drama.
Theater Breaking Through Barriers was formerly known as Theater By the Blind, founded in 1979 by co-artistic director Ike Schambelan. Recently the company has changed its name to include all artists with disabilities. Although last year's The Rules of Charity not only was written by a disabled playwright and focused on a man in a wheelchair, most of the company's productions are typical plays featuring actors whose disabilities are difficult to discern.
Fortunately TBTB's work has intrinsic merit that goes well beyond the company's admirable goal.
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide