Final Follies Review: A.R. Gurney’s Posthumous Play about WASP Porn Star

For the last few years before he died in 2017 at the age of 86, playwright A.R. Gurney had been experiencing a resurgence of a career that had already produced some 40 plays over 50 years, best-known for his elegantly-structured chronicles of dying WASP culture, like “The Dining Room” and “The Cocktail Hour.”  A couple of his plays, “Love Letters” and “Sylvia,” were revived on Broadway; Signature devoted a season to him Off-Broadway; and he was writing new plays Off-Off Broadway as well

So it’s no big surprise that, at the time of his death, he had written a new play, ‘Final Follies,” and had planned to send it to Primary Stages, one of his several artistic homes.
The theater has chosen to produce this short play with two of his earliest plays, and name the entire evening “Final Follies.”  It would be tempting to call that title apt, but that would be too glib. These three plays are not Gurney at his best; they are not so much dramas as comic skits. But they are also not for the skittish – showing a mischievously blunt side of Gurney with which even some of his fans might not be familiar. If all three plays are implausible in the extreme, that seems to be largely the point.

In “Final Follies,” Nelson (Colin Hanlon) is the scion of a wealthy WASP family but seems to have failed at everything he’s attempted, even when helped out by his grandfather, the family patriarch. So here he is when the play begins, trying something new – he’s at the office of a pornography film production company, responding to an ad to become a performer. “I’ve always wanted to try acting professionally,” Nelson tells the receptionist Tanisha (Rachel Nicks.) “I used to get pretty good parts in our school plays.” His new career takes off; his older, successful brother Walter (Mark Junek) gets wind of it, and he is outwardly aghast – though secretly delighted. Water has always resented how Grandfather (Greg Mullavey) has favored Nelson despite all his screw-ups. Walter plots finally to turn Grandfather against Nelson, with amusing results.

Gurney wrote “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz”  in 1965,  and it was produced at the Cherry Lane under the auspices of Edward Albee. It returns more than half a century later to the same theater. The influence of Albee is evident in this ultimately ugly, surreal satire of suburban life. A cheerful, elaborately coiffed blonde Bunny Stuntz (Deborah Rush),  arrives to preside over a meeting of an organization whose specific mission we never learn,  to which she was elected chairman the previous week.  But she can’t find the key to the box that contains the agenda for the meeting, and the two participants we see, Howie and Wilma (Piter Marek and Betsey Aidem), get bored and go off to the cafeteria for a party that apparently becomes something of an orgy. Before that happens, a strange man in a red Impala arrives in the parking lot  – and he has the key.  Though we never see him, he lurks off-stage, menacing. In a rather shockingly timely moment, Bunny denies ever having met this man and (I kid you not) says: “Would he like to see my calendar? I’ll show him my engagement calendar. It has everything I’ve done. Meetings, coffees, carpool, dentists, errands, everything. Would you like to see that? Would that convince you that you’ve made a mistake?”

That something awful happens is clear from the title, but it’s far from clear what happens, and completely obscure as to why.

 

Gurney wrote “The Love Course,” in 1969 while he was still teaching at M.I.T. It is the last class of The Literature of Love, a course that two professors have been team-teaching throughout the semester.

“I want to resolve, if we possibly can, all the great themes of love which have obsessed us and the Western World, from February up until now,” Professor Carroway (Betsey Aidem) says.

Professor Burgess (Piter Marek) doesn’t want that. He has to leave for a meeting, which appalls Professor Carroway. Besides, Burgess expresses less enthusiasm for the course, because of reaction to it by colleagues. “Some people have called our Love Course a little erotic—I mean, erratic.”

As the increasingly chaotic scene unfolds, Gurney clever uses “Anthony and Cleopatra” and ”Wuthering Heights” that the professors are supposedly teaching to two students (Nicks and Hanlon, hilariously student-like) for a rather erudite comic routine. Their recitations of the classics unsubtly parallel the professors’ own feelings for one another.

 

Final Follies

Primary Stages at Cherry Lane

By A.R. Gurney, directed by David Saint,

Scenic design by James Youmans, costume design by David Murin, lighting design by Cory Pattak, sound design by Scott Killian

Cast: Betsy Aidem, Colin Hanlon, Mark Junek, Piter Marek, Greg Mullavey, Rachel Nicks and Deborah Rush

Running time: 2 hours including intermission

Tickets: $82 – $152. Student rush $20.

Final Follies runs through October 21, 2018

Advertisements

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

Leave a Reply