The Signature Theatre's John Guare season brought us two of his older full-length works and now concludes with two one-acters (also written earlier) tied together so that they can be viewed as a play in two acts. Of the three productions the one that succeeded most in giving us a new appreciation of a play that originally did not make a big splash was Bosoms and Neglect (see link). All, however, have enough of Guare's trademark word wit and eccentricities of character and plot development to fulfill the Signature mission of shedding light on the resident playwright's overall oeuvre.
The first play takes place in 1940. Its protagonists are Agnes (Kate Burton) and Andrew (Adam Grupper) who on closer inspection are old enough to have a sense of desperation about escaping the disappointments and limitations of their lives. Agnes is as perky as the polka dots on her navy blue dress. (In a season abloom with period floral prints, its nice to see this fashion tribute to a prevailing 40s and 50s style). She's brought Andrew, her confirmed city slicker boyfriend, to the family country house on Scroon Lake in Lake Winnepassauki, New Hampshire that's now occupied by her older sister Flo (Amy Wright). Andrew is clearly uncomfortable in every way. He prefers the ocean with its larger vistas (unlike a lake which to him is as limiting as marriage). By the time Agnes and Andrew reach the house (or rather the beach in front of it since there's been a fire), it's clear that she has good reason to look for the curative benefits of a feast of the Assumption swim in her beloved lake.
Burton and Grupper ably blend humor with the pathos of two people whose panic and insecurities threaten to keep their relationship in a permanent holding pattern. They share the rest of the play with Agnes's offbeat relatives -- Flo who is pregnant with twins by her boy-husband Randolph (Joshua Harto), his maybe/maybe-not mother Mrs. Larry, (a Marlene Dietrich wannabe deliciously overplayed by Pamela Nyberg), and Uncle Ambrose (Alan North amusingly covincing as the boozy, irrepressible schemer). It is Uncle Ambrose rather than the Blessed Mother who makes miracles happen, one of them being to turn Scroon Lake into Lake Hollywood where icons of the movie world will buy hideaways that will make Ambrose and Andrew tycoons.
Fast forward to the present and the reality of those 1940 pipedreams. Agnes and Andrew (now played by Mason Adams and Betty Miller) did get married but neither got rich or lived very happily ever after. A credenza which was mentioned but not seen now sits in their Hell's Kitchen living room covered with snapshots and old bills. The only solid links in this otherwise forced marriage between plays (written at different times) are that piece of furniture plus a touching though predictable finale that briefly brightens Guare's dark vision with a touch of hope for dreams and redemptive love. While Adams and Miller give solid performances as the older Agnes and Andrew it's hard to associate them with their younger counterparts. This is not The Four Poster in which we see one couple changing believably, but a somewhat too severe test of credibility. The older characters' personality traits, their way of speaking, his job as the building super -- nothing meshes. Having Kate Burton now play their tactless, unhappily married daughter and Adam Grupper as their son-in-law only exacerbates the absence of unity, though both once again shine in the roles they play.
Aside from the two plays never merging into an integrated two-act whole, the other major flaw is that the family members in both are comic relief types rather than fully developed characters. The two directors listed on the program obviously haven't been able to put their heads together alleviate these problems. If you can overlook these shortcomings and just sit back and enjoy Guare's language, E. David Cosier's handsome set and Teresa Snider-Stein's on-the-mark costumes, Lake Hollywood may offer sufficient rewards to be worth two hours and fifteen minutes of your time.
By John Guare
Directed by Doug Hughes and Itamar Kubovy
With with Ralph Waite (replaced by Mason Adams), Kate Burton, Doc Dougherty Adam Grupper, Josh Harto, Pamela Nyberg, Amy Wright, Alan North, Betty Miller, Natalie Paulding
Set design: E. David Cosier
Costume design: Teresa Snider-Stein
Lighting design: Michael Chybowski and Joe Saint
Sound design: Red Ramona
Signature Theatre Co., 555 West 42nd (East of 11th Ave) ( (212/244-PLAY)
3/30/99-/5/23/99; opened 4/28/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on 5/06 performance