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A CurtainUp Review
' By Elyse Sommer
The story is a straightforward and familiar family drama, that revolves around the long and happily married Russell (Peter Scolari) and Claire (Carolyn McCormick) and their young adult children (Andrew Keenan-Bolger as son Nick and Ismenia Mendes as daughter Peggy). The family's insular lives are conveniently not immune from dicey marital problems and the invasion of outsiders via Nick and Peggy's romantic relationships — his with Betsy (Molly Nordin) a smart and outspoken Jewish girl; hers with a never seen Italian. Convenient indeed!
But Gurney is a good enough writer go get away with such handy plot stirring contrivances as having both Nick and Peggy entangled with someone who is likely to set off inherent WASP prejudices. He also has a deft touch for bringing something special to predictable and obvious situations. With his characterization of Russell, the playwright also demonstrates his ability to deftly allow us to see some surprising complexity and depth in this straight arrow, conservative.
As Russell isn't quite the opinionated prig he at first seems, so Claire also is not just another well-to-do middle aged matron having a fling. A pause here to assure you that I'm not being a spoiler here. That Claire didn't just go to New York City for its superior slipcovers is obvious to everyone from the get-go, except Russell (and probably not even him). And so to continue. Besides engendering the play's most poignant scene, Claire's extra-curricular activities also illustrate the hypocritical mindset of this WASPish society, a mindset that believes that a breach in good manners is more unforgivable than a breach in marital fidelity.
The opening scene neatly introduces all the potential problems: The main focus is on Russell's worries about not being able to reach Claire. Nick's suggestion that she might have gone to the theater prompts a sly allusion (see the quotation at the top) to playwrights writing lengthy plays as Eugene O'Neill. Someone like Russell would hardly have thought Claire might venture to the neighborhood that Gurney calls home even though his plays, like this one, tend to run fashionably short.
Though Peter Scolari isn't the first actor I would think of casting for a traditional Gurney play, he does quite well in portraying a man who may be mired in prejudices but is not too rigid to accept the compromises the mounting tensions in his family call for. The actors playing the three young adults are fine. Andrew-Keenan Bolger who I last saw in the musical Newsies, though he's a bit too one-note as the family member most deeply troubled by his mother's never discussed but more than probable infidelity. But top honors belong to Carolyn McCormick as that mother.
Thomas Kail and his creative team have ably staged the production without a lot of fancy scenery. Set designer Rachel Hauck's use of few wooden benches is inventive. However, except for a very effective and lovely father-daughter scene (in terms of both set and dialogue) the constant moving around of those benches becoems irritating and distracting. Bart Fassbeinder's incidental music adds to the '50s flavor.
The Flea-Gurney love affair is bound to continue since the company's just announced plans for a move to a larger performance space which will include an indoor-outdoor theater. Guess who it will be named for? Yup, it will be the A. R. Gurney Theater.