By Karen Isaacs
If I had to name an underrated American playwright – A. R. Gurney would immediately be on my list. Yes, Gurney had a number of well received plays, yet the critics always seem to diminish his accomplishments because he is dealing with the WASP class.
You know, the old or older money, prep school, Ivy League people who are known for decorum (except when they aren’t) and keeping a tight lid on emotions. Somehow people fail to recognize that in showing that dying culture, Gurney is making some very meaningful points about the world today and are relationships.
Thus I was delighted to see Primary Stages’ production of Final Follies, three one act plays by Gurney from three different periods of his writing. If you can, see this show before it closes on Oct. 21.
The title piece, was written closer to his death in 2017. I enjoyed it the most. But the other two, written earlier are both very good. David Saint has ably directed each of the pieces.
Each exposes a different aspect of Gurney’s talent and world view. The middle piece, The Rape of Bunny Stuntz is one of his earliest plays, written in 1965. It has some typical Guerney elements – upper middle class, a woman who is proper and up-tight, but he takes it to a very different place than usual. Deborah Rush was excellent as Bunny who slowly reveals an entirely different side of her to us.
The Love Course, written in 1969 skewers certain types of academics. I certainly recognized the types – the artsy woman professor who slowly becomes unhinged, the male professor who is caught up in climbing the ladder, the young female student who is earnest and protective of the woman and the boyfriend who gets caught up in it all. Each actor was excellent but Piter Marek as the professor and Betsy Aidem as the other professor carry the piece. That doesn’t mean you won’t admire the subtle performance of Colin Halon.
The title piece was written late in his life; it returns to his themes of the extinction of the WASP class. It’s also the most fully developed piece – it has characters that you do care about. We have Nelson, the ne’er-do-well son of old money, his up-tight, conventional brother (Walter), grandfather (Greg Mullavey) who holds the purse strings and Tanisha (Rachel Nicks) who works for a film company. Saying too much would spoil the fun. Let’s just say that the brother is shocked and hopes he can use that to convince grandfather to cut the money flow. Colin Hanlon is terrific as Nelson as are all of them. The seen between grandfather and Walter is priceless.
So get yourself to The Cherry Lane Theater, 38 Commerce Street, New York to see this delight.
For tickets, visit Primary Stages.