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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.
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Sylvia – Review and Pics

Annaleigh Ashford has starred on Broadway in Wicked, Legally Blonde, Hair and Kinky Boots; accepted a Tony for what she called “the worst dancing that ever happened on Broadway” and portrays the ex-prostitute in the Showtime series Masters of Sex. All that has led to Sylvia, where Ashford is the best show dog ever.

Yes, she’s better than Lassie or Toto or even Uggie; she certainly beats out any animal trained by William Berloni. Her only competition may be Snoopy.

Ashford’s consistently hilarious, sometimes touching, always spot-on canine impersonation is the reason to see the first Broadway production of A.R. Gurney’s play about a man who falls in love with a stray dog that he finds in the park, endangering his marriage.

Full review at DC Theater Scene

Click on any photograph to see it enlarged.

Love and Money Review: A.R. Gurney’s New Play About A Feisty Rich WASP

 Maureen Anderman Gabriel Brown


Maureen Anderman
Gabriel Brown

“Love and Money,” A.R. Gurney’s latest comedy about WASPs, is as deep as dust, and no more solid, but as dust goes, it’s a fine light powder, ground by a craftsman who’s been at it for some four decades, and it’s more likely to tickle than to irritate.

In a brownstone on the Upper East Side, Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman) is packing up for a move to a fancy retirement community that she insists on calling a nursing home. At the same time, she is writing checks with a lot of zeroes; she has decided to give away all her considerable wealth to charity.

This does not sit well with her longtime law firm, which sends over Harvey (Joe Paulik), a young lawyer who might have better luck than her usual attorney in making her see reason. He introduces himself.

Cornelia: And your specialty is difficult old ladies?
Harvey: My specialty is Trusts and Estates.
Cornelia: I once knew a lawyer whose specialty was Murders and Impositions.
Harvey: I think you mean Mergers and Acquisitions, Mrs. Cunningham.

 Eventually, Harvey gets to the point: She might have trouble giving away all her money to charity, because her two grandchildren could contest it (her two children are dead.) And, Harvey says, his firm just received a registered letter from somebody claiming to be her third grandchild. Shortly after Harvey’s announcement, the young man suddenly appears at the brownstone, having traveled all the way from his and Cornelia’s (and Gurney’s) hometown of Buffalo. Walker Williams (Gabriel Brown) turns out to be African-American; he claims his father had a secret affair with Cornelia’s daughter.

Harvey is convinced that Walker is a con man, and frankly, any sensible theatergoer would share Harvey’s skepticism, even those who haven’t seen John Guare’s “Six Degrees of Separation.” Gurney does little to eliminate our suspicions. Walker’s evidence is flimsy, his explanations are full of holes, he is well spoken to the point of slickness, and he is upfront about his interest in money – he says he’s normally called Scott, a nickname his high school teacher gave him because of his love for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.”

Scott: Fitzgerald was a great writer.
Cornelia: I’ll tell you this, my friend. He loved to write about money.
Scott: That’s exactly why I went for the guy. That’s why my teacher called me Scott.
Cornelia: Because you like money too?
Scott: I do. I go for it big time.

Without our willingness to believe Scott’s claim of familial connection, the plot of “Love and Money” is something of a bust. More fruitful is the theme – that money is a curse — one , Cornelia says, “that specifically affects my particular tribe,” by which she means White Anglo-Saxon Protestants (At one point, she agrees with Harvey’s suggestion that she’s a “self-hating WASP.”) It’s because of their wealth, Cornelia maintains, that both her children died young, and that both her grandchildren are spoiled. The stories she tells to back up her assertion (with the aid of her blunt-speaking long-time maid, Agnes) sometimes persuasively buttress her argument; sometimes they feel like a stretch. In either case, they offer little new nor especially insightful.

Gurney could also easily be accused of handling the issue of race too glibly:

Scott: Are you mad she had a major love affair with a black man?
Cornelia: Mad? I’m thrilled! And jealous! The closest I’ve ever come to an affair with a black man is to vote for Obama.

Yet if “Love and Money” is trivial, it is also convivial. The clue to how we’re supposed to take this play is in the couple of suave, bubbly Cole Porter songs Gurney somewhat oddly works into the show (Cornelia is giving away her piano to Juilliard, and a student, Jessica, comes by to try it out.) Anderman is delightful as what used to be called a character, somebody easily mistaken for dotty, but who has actually become wiser and more open-minded with the years, and more willing to speak her mind.

At one point, Cornelia holds up a waste paper basket that looks like an elephant’s foot. “This was originally owned and operated by a majestic African elephant. It was shot by my late husband on his last hunting trip.” She uses the waste basket as a reminder of mankind’s cruelty to animals. Michael Yeargan’s meticulous set design is matched by Gurney’s precision with the English language. Both make the play fun to take in from moment to moment, even though those moments don’t ultimately add up to one of the playwright’s best works.

As I wrote in a profile of A.R. Gurney last year, “Love and Money” is the final, and only new, play in Gurney’s year of residency at the Signature Center, which coincided with a Broadway revival of his “Love Letters,” after the playwright’s 25-year absence from The Great White Way.  Quick to follow is the revival of his “Sylvia,” which when it opens on October 15th will be only the fifth production on Broadway by this author of some 50 plays. At age 84, Gurney has lived to see his work, and his reputation, dusted off and presented anew.


Love and Money

The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues)
by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Mark Lamos
Michael Yeargan (Scenic Design), Jess Goldstein (Costume Design), Stephen Strawbridge (Lighting Design), John Gromada (Sound Design).
Cast: Maureen Anderman as Cornelia Cunningham, Gabriel Brown as Walker “Scott” Williams, Pamela Dunlap as Agnes Munger, Kahyun Kim as Jessica Worth and Joe Paulik as Harvey Abel.
Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission
Tickets: $25 until September 27; $55 after
Love and Money is scheduled to run until October 4, 2015

August 2015 Theater Openings on Broadway (Hamilton!), Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway

Hamilton9

Hamilton-PlaybillHamilton is NOT the only show opening this month. There are new plays at the Signature by both Annie Baker, winner of last year’s Pulitzer Prize for The Flick, and the 84-year-old A.R. Gurney, experiencing a late-career resurgence. There are 200 shows at the Fringe festival, and another 63 at the lesser known Thespis festival. There are exciting FREE plays at the New Brooklyn Theatre, including one by Lynn Nottage.

But Hamilton is the only show opening on Broadway, and even people who rarely if ever go to the theater have been gushing over it since its debut at the Public Theater, where it swept nearly every Off-Broadway award.

Below is a selection of the shows opening in August, organized chronologically by opening date. Each title is linked to a relevant website.

Color key: Broadway: Red. Off Broadway: Purple or Blue. Off Off Broadway: Green.

August 2

Delirium’s Daughters (Triumvirate Artists at Theatre Row)

Four suitors, three daughters…what’s a father to do? A kind old gentleman believes his deceased wife has forbid their three daughters to marry, until one of the suitors plays a series of tricks that helps him deal with his loss and recover his sanity. A new take on Commedia Dell’Arte

August 3

What I Learned in Fallsburg (Stage 72 at the Triad)

Gary Waldman’s personal musical tribute to growing up in the Catskills

August 4

Crossing Verrazano (Hudson Guild)

Writer-director Anthony Fusco’s play tells the true story of a gay-bashing that took place in Greenwich Village in 2010.

Lynn Nottage

Lynn Nottage

This is one of 63 plays being presented as part of the Thespis Theater Festival.

August 5

Las Meninas (New Brooklyn Theatre)

A play by Pulitzer-winnig playwright Lynn Nottage that tells the story of “the love affair between Louis XIV’s wife Queen Marie-Therese and Nabo, her African servant as told through the imagination of their illegitimate daughter. This play is offered FOR FREE.

August 6

Hamilton (Richard Rodgers)

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

Daveed Diggs as Thomas Jefferson with ensemble of Hamilton

The story of Alexander Hamilton, told by Lin-Manuel Miranda (In The Heights) using a mix of rap, jazz, r&b, and even light opera. I saw this at the Public Theater, and loved it.

August 7

Rachel2

Rachel (New Brooklyn Theatre)

Angelina Weld Grimké, the first African-American woman to have a play publicly performed, wrote Rachel  at the request of W.E.B. DuBois, shortly after the debut of D.W. Griffith’s racist 1915 film The Birth of a Nation,  it was one of the first plays to protest lynching and racial violence. This play is offered FOR FREE, and is presented in repertoire with Las Meninas.

August 10

cymbeline

Cymbeline (Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park)

 Lily Rabe, Hamish Linklater, Patrick Page and Raul Esparza are featured In this Shakespearean fairy tale directed by Daniel Sullivan, described this way: ” Princess Imogen’s fidelity is put to the royal test when her disapproving father banishes her soul mate. Cross-dressing girls and cross-dressing boys, poisons and swordfights and dastardly villains all take the stage in this enchanting romp about the conquering power of love.” For FREE.

August 11

John (Signature Theater)

Signature Theatre presents “John” A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

Signature Theatre presents “John”
A New Play by Annie Baker; Directed by Sam Gold
Pictured: Georgia Engel as Mertis Katherine Graven, Christopher Abbott as Elias Schreiber-Hoffman & Lois Smith as Genevieve Marduk

A play by Annie Baker (Pulitzer winner for The Flick), starring an impressive cast including Georgia Engel (from the Mary Tyler Moore Show), Christopher Abbott (who left Girls),Hong Chau (Treme) and Lois Smith (The Trip to Bountiful, Rebel Without A Cause, etc), and directed by long-time Baker collaborator Sam Gold. “The week after Thanksgiving. A Bed & Breakfast in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. A cheerful innkeeper. A young couple struggling to stay together. Thousands of inanimate objects, watching. “

August 14

Fringeteaser

The New York International Fringe Festival, which begins today and runs through August 30th, offers almost 200 different shows.

August 18

InformedConsentforTwitter

Informed Consent (Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd St)

A play by Deborah Zoe Laufer “about one woman’s quest to answer the mysteries of science and her own life, inspired by a landmark court case between one of the country’s largest universities and a Native American tribe based in the Grand Canyon.”  The suit was against Arizona State University for doing unauthorized research on blood drawn from members of the Havasupai tribe

August 19

MercuryFurscriptcoerMercury Fur (New Group at Signature)

“In a society ravaged by warring gangs and a hallucinogenic-drug epidemic, Elliot and Darren, under the sway of the ruthless Spinx, throw parties for rich clients in abandoned apartment buildings – parties that help guests act out their darkest, most sinister fantasies.”

August 24

Love and Money (Signature)

AR Gurney By Gregory CostanzoA.R. Gurney, 84, has written close to 50 plays. He is best-known for “The Dinner Party,” but he is experiencing a career resurgence, which includes last fall’s Broadway revival of Love Letters, and this fall’s Broadway debut of Sylvia, as well as an entire season devoted to him at the Signature. Love and Money is a new play written as part of his residency year at Signature. “Determined to donate almost everything she owns before her life of grace and privilege ends, wealthy widow Cornelia Cunningham’s plan hits a snag when an ambitious and ingratiating young man arrives to claim his alleged inheritance.”

August 27

A Delicate Ship (Playwrights Realm at The Peter J Sharpe Theater)

A Delicate Shipcast

From the company, Playwrights Realm, that produced one of my favorite shows from last year, My Manana Comes, comes this play by Anna Ziegler. “It’s Christmas Eve, and Sarah and Sam are celebrating like New Yorkers: flirting over wine and debating the nature of existential suffering. Then there is a knock on the door, and Sarah’s childhood friend Nate stands at the threshold. And suddenly suffering becomes a whole lot less sexy.”

Whorl Inside a Loop (Second Stage)

WhorlInsideALooppic

Co-written and co-performed by Sherie Rene Scott (Everyday Rapture) A well-regarded actress agrees to teach six inmates how to tell their stories behind the bars of a men’s maximum security prison. Sharing intimate and sometimes hilarious details of their former lives, this unlikely group forms a bond — even as the actress’s life outside spins out of control.”

Love Letters Broadway Review: Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy Over 50 Years

Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow photo2 by Carol Rosegg

If there’s a gimmick to “Love Letters,” the Broadway revival of A.R. Gurney’s two-character play about a man and woman writing to one another over half a century, it isn’t the presence of a rotating roster of rarely-seen stars – Mia Farrow with Brian Dennehy through October 10th – nor the absence of scenery or costumes, nor that the actors stay seated at a table the whole time and read from scripts without ever looking at each other. It is that the two characters write letters to one another. Who does that anymore?

That is part of why this play holds such an unexpected fascination, helped along by a reliable performance by the formidable Dennehy and an extraordinary one by Mia Farrow. Part of the pleasure, much akin to Michael Apted’s documentary “Up” series, is in watching while a relationship and two lifetimes unfold before us, in ways that are suggested subtly from the start, and in ways that are totally surprising.

The history of this play has its own satisfactions, as I discovered when I interviewed the playwright. Gurney began it as a typing exercise when he was learning a new computer. Thinking it a short story, he sent it off to the New Yorker magazine. “They sent back a rejection, saying ‘we don’t publish plays.’ My agent said ‘Maybe it is a play.’”

Some early critic didn’t think so, but since 1988, “Love Letters” has been translated into 24 languages and produced in more than 40 countries. It is only one of three plays by the prolific playwright that have been on Broadway, and the only one to return.

The letter-writing begins in 1937, when Andrew Makepeace Ladd III formally accepts the invitation to Melissa Gardner’s second grade birthday party. Their personalities are established from the get-go, and become even clearer over time. He’s dutiful – stuffy — and taken with her from the start. She’s rebellious, ultimately self-destructive, and artistically talented. She accepts his attention, sometimes grudgingly, often as her due. Gurney exhibits an acute ear for how children and teenagers talk.

“Sometimes I think you just like me because I’m richer than you are,” Melissa writes to Andy.

“All I know is my mother keeps saying you’d make a good match; if I ever married you, I’d be set up for life,” Andy replies in the blunt way of a young teen. “But I think it’s really just physical attraction.”

Their milieu is Northeast upper class White Anglo Saxon Protestant – ballroom dancing and boarding schools; Ivy League universities, the Navy, and politics for him; gallery openings and discreet high-price sanitariums for her – but Gurney manages to capture this world so precisely that its inhabitants never feel foreign.

Mia Farrow in particular feels ideally cast; it’s hard to imagine somebody who would do a better job as Melissa Gardner (although I am willing to reappraise if and when I see the other performers.) Farrow, with her translucent beauty and educated diction, appears believably rooted in the upper crust enclave in which Melissa is raised, but which never serves her well. Farrow ranges from flighty to flirty to fragile, with a suggestion of great feeling – much of it all the more communicated, paradoxically, because it is not expressed on the surface.

For much of their lives, Andy and Melissa never seem to be in the right place in the right time for their friendship to turn into the romance that it seemed destined to become. “Love Letters” winds up being as much about loss as about love, and of discovering how small the space between them.

 

Love Letters

Brooks Atkinson Theater, 256 West 47th Street

By A. R. Gurney; directed by Gregory Mosher; sets by John Lee Beatty; costumes by Jane Greenwood; lighting by Peter Kaczorowski; sound by Scott Lehrer;

Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes.

Tickets: $60 to $136

 

Cast Brian Dennehy (Andrew Makepeace Ladd III) and Mia Farrow (Melissa Gardner).

 

Love Letters is scheduled to run through February 1, on the follow schedule of casts:

LoveLettersCast

Saturday, September 13, 2014, through Friday, October 10, 2014
Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow
Saturday, October 11, 2014, through Friday, November 7, 2014
Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy
Saturday, November 8, 2014 through Friday, December 5, 2014
Alan Alda and Candice Bergen
Saturday, December 6, 2014, through Friday, January 9, 2015
Stacy Keach and Diana Rigg
Saturday, January 10, 2015, through Sunday, February 1, 2015
Anjelica Huston and Martin Sheen

 

 

New Broadway Marquees. Michael C Hall as Hedwig. Broadway Baby Joan Rivers. Rosie Perez! The Week in NY Theater

What’s fun about Broadway in September — the marquees go up for the Fall season, even if the shows won’t be opening for months.

 

The Week in New York Theater, Sept 1 – 7

 

1

Theater trumps TV on exploring “the big issues,” says this UK TV journalist. True in US too?

2

Fish-in-the-Dark-Larry-David-logo
Jayne Houdyshell, Rosie Perez, Jonny Orsini and more join Larry David in the cast of his play Fish in the Dark, which opens on Broadway in March.

Andrea Martin

Andrea Martin

Tonight, Andrea Martin returns as a lusty grandma upside down on a trapeze singing in Pippin

Absolutely Filthy, winner of Overall Excellence at 2014 New York Fringe

Absolutely Filthy, winner of Overall Excellence at 2014 New York Fringe

Added to 2014 Fringe Encores, which begins this week: Absolutely Filthy, Peanuts cartoon parody

Why listening to music is the key to good health  (Is watching people tap dance the key to happiness?)

3

Skylight
David Hare’s “Skylight” to be revived on Broadway with Carey Mulligan as schoolteacher visited by ex, portrayed by Bill Nighy. Opens March 16 at John Golden.

Lisa D’Amour (Detroit) is finally on Broadway with  “Airline Highway,” her dark comedy of pals hanging in a parking lot. Opens Apr 23

From left to right: Laura Osnes, Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada

From left to right: Laura Osnes, Harriet Harris, Marla Mindelle and Ann Harada

Cinderella will close on Broadway January 3, 2015 after 41 previews and 770 regular performances.

kaleyannvoorhees

Kaley Ann Voorhees, 20 years old, will play Christine in The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway starting in December – the first to be born after the show debuted on Broadway.

Other Phantom news: Norm Lewis is staying on until Jan 31, 2015. Mary Michael Patt is succeeding Sierra Boggess from now until December.

Creativity has come to mean productivity,argues Joshua Rothman in the New Yorker, who prefers the Romantic idea of creativity

4

<a name=”rivers”
Headshot Portrait Of Joan Rivers
Comedian Joan Rivers has died at age 81, a week after a routine procedure went awry.
She performed in three Broadway shows — and wrote two of them. “Acting is my true love. I would like to have been a serious actor, and I plan to in the next life. I’m going to be Meryl Streep Rivers.”

JoanRiversonBroadway

Joan Rivers’ mark on the Great White Way

Remembering my boss

Joan Rivers’ love of NYC and the theater:

There’s nothing like Broadway at night, and I try to go to Mamma Mia! if possible, because I like to watch 15,000 Japanese tourists in the audience trying to sing “Waterloo.” If you don’t go to Broadway, you’re a fool. On Broadway, off Broadway, above Broadway, below Broadway, go! Don’t tell me there isn’t something wonderful playing. If I’m home in New York at night, I’m either at a Broadway or an Off Broadway show. We’re in the theater capital of the world, and if you don’t get it, you’re an idiot.

Come in a wheelchair, and they’ll put you in an aisle. I know how to get around New York! A wheelchair will always get you a good seat. And the cast will come out to you to say hello if you’re in a wheelchair. You don’t have to go backstage. If you need a wheelchair, I usually just push a handicapped person out of one. And I love to hang around the Broadway area, because I offer the cops 50 bucks. If you offer a policeman 50 bucks, he will stop and frisk you.

 

The 897 selected as MacArthur Foundation “geniuses” since 1981 move more often than general population:  Do creative people move more?

 


AR Gurney By Gregory Costanzo

My interview with A.R. Gurney

More than a decade ago, A.R. Gurney, who had written some forty plays over forty years, wondered whether he would be forced to retire. “I thought I had told the world everything I wanted to tell the world.” But even when he did finally come up with a new idea, he couldn’t find a producer or theater interested in it. Now, at age eighty-three, Gurney has shows in both the new Broadway season, and the new Off-Broadway season. Revivals of two of his plays open within the next two weeks—Love Letters on Broadway, and Wayside Motor Inn Off-Broadway. He has become a playwright-in-residence at the Signature Theatre, which has committed to two more of his plays, including a new one entitled Love and Money.

Ask Gurney what happened to change things around, and his answer is succinct: Off-Off Broadway saved him.

Full article about A.R. Gurney

Sally and Phil

Sally and Phil

My review of The Wayside Motor Inn

A.R. Gurney was surprised at the Signature Theater’s choice for the opening play in his playwright-in-residence season with them.

“The Wayside Motor Inn was dismissed by the critics when it opened, and it’s never really worked before,” Gurney told me in an interview 

Whether this 1977 play works now depends on how satisfied you can be by a well-staged production that presents five dramatically underwhelming stories in a theatrically inventive way.

Full review of The Wayside Motor Inn

MyMananaComes2
My review of My Manana Comes

he four busboys who work in the kitchen of a tony Upper East Side restaurant in the well-acted, superbly directed new play by Elizabeth Irwin, “My Manana Comes,” bring home a cruel irony of the $30 billion New York City restaurant industry that employs about one out of every 10 New Yorkers: Many restaurant workers can barely afford to feed themselves… “My Manana Comes,” produced by the Playwrights Realm theater company at the Peter Sharp Theater, is no didactic tract on the exploitation of restaurant workers. It is a spot-on recreation of the “back of house” of a fancy restaurant.

Full review of My Manana Comes

5

Ron Shelton of Bull Durham the musical, now in previews @alliancetheatre “Broadway is obviously everyone’s goal & intention,” “There’s no musical-theater equivalent for the closeup in a movie…That has to become a scene with a song.

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The Fall Arts Season, including six articles about theater.

 

Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

Closing September 20th after five weeks: Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter

Sam Shepard

Sam Shepard on pals Hoffman & Williams; writing his first novel;how America is “on our way out, as a culture” etc

sarahruhl

Sarah Ruhl chats with Polly Carl about her new book of essays and how theater is about language and listening

Madeleine Bundy & Stephen Stout in SMOKE at The Flea

Smoke Review

Christopher Fitzgerald (with guitar)

Christopher Fitzgerald (with guitar)

My review, and photographs, of The Winter’s Tale 

The Realistic Joneses Lyceum Theatre

Michael C. Hall (here pictured in The Realistic Joneses) will be the next Hedwig (also at the Belasco), staring October 16.

The Wayside Motor Inn Theater Review: Gurney’s Five Tales Told Simultaneously

Wayside Motor Inn Signature TheatreA.R. Gurney was surprised at the Signature Theater’s choice for the opening play in his playwright-in-residence season with them.

“The Wayside Motor Inn was dismissed by the critics when it opened, and it’s never really worked before,” Gurney told me in an interview on Howlround.

Whether this 1977 play works now depends on how satisfied you can be by a well-staged production that presents five dramatically underwhelming stories in a theatrically inventive way.

Traveling salesman Ray (Quincy Dunn-Baker) enters a conventionally decorated room in a motel outside Boston, puts down his luggage, makes himself a drink, turns on the TV, calls his office. Suddenly, an elderly couple, Frank and Jessie (Jon DeVries and Lizbeth Mackay) enter the room, having registered as guests on a trip to see their daughter and her newborn child, and sit on the bed.

We see them in the same room, but as characters (we soon figure out) they are in a different albeit identical room in the motel. One by one, three more groups of characters enter different rooms of the motel – but the same set – and their stories unfold simultaneously:

Wayside Motor Inn Signature Theatre

Vince (Marc Kudisch) is taking his son Mark (Will Pullen) for an interview with an alumnus at Harvard University, in a push to get him admitted. But Mark doesn’t want to go; he wants to fix cars. Their feelings pour out in a fight over a pink shirt that Vince wants Mark to wear.

Sally and Phil

Sally and Phil

College student Phil (David McElwee) has invited his girlfriend of six months (Sally (Ismenia Mendes) to a night in a motel room in order to consummate their relationship – but she’s not sure she wants to.

Andy (Kelly AuCoin), a doctor who has left his wife and children for a new job out-of-town, gets a room and meets his wife Ruth (Rebecca Henderson) to make arrangements to pick up his stuff. Both intend to be civil, but that doesn’t work out as both intended.

Sharon and Ray flanking Frank and Jessie in Wayside Motor Inn

Sharon and Ray flanking Frank and Jessie in Wayside Morot Inn

Ray, the married salesman, winds up having a dalliance with Sharon (Jenn Lyon) a room service waitress who is an ex-hippie – and whom, Ray realizes, he met years earlier.

Jenn Lyon and Quincy Dunn-Baker

Jenn Lyon and Quincy Dunn-Baker

All the actors are first rate, with a particular stand-out Jenn Lyon, who gets the most obviously funny lines. It is a testament to both the director Lila Neugebauer and the playwright that the audience can follow the dialogue even when the couples are talking nearly at once. (It was only when two of the couples were shouting angrily at one another that there was difficulty in discerning precisely what they were saying, although the actual words in those moments didn’t matter so much.) There was also some clever blocking: At one point, the tired divorcing couple full of past regrets, stood at either end of the bed where the energetic college students were together reveling in the future possibilities of their newly-minted relationship. There are even a number of touching moments.

It’s hard to argue that The Wayside Motor Inn adds up to anything more than a trifle. Although all the characters are in the midst of change (many have fallen by the wayside?), there is no great insight into human nature or American culture. Gurney, consciously I think, sacrifices depth for clarity; more complicated and nuanced interactions would surely have gotten lost amid the hubbub.

On the other hand, the set-up does not lead to a wildly chaotic and entertaining farce a la Noises Off. The mechanics of getting the actors on and off the set, and performing within inches of one another, are not dazzling or hilarious. But they are admirable – and one could do much worse (especially at the Signature’s $25 ticket price) than an admirable theatrical exercise.

Sigourney Weaver Breaks Ground Off-Off Broadway With The Flea Theater

Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in The Guys, about 9/11, in 2002 at The Flea

Sigourney Weaver and Bill Murray in The Guys, about 9/11, in 2002 at The Flea

Before she portrayed an action hero, an astronaut, an activist or an alien on the screen, actress Sigourney Weaver says, “I was always doing new plays Off-Off Broadway. The spaces were always terrible; they were unheated, there were no bathrooms, no dressing rooms; the walls were crumbling.”
NewhomeofTheFleaTheaterThat is why she and her husband, the director Jim Simpson, created The Flea Theater 17 years ago – and why on December 5, they attended a ceremonial groundbreaking for the new $18 million home of The Flea, which is in a  building constructed in 1791 on 20 Thomas Street, four blocks further downtown from their current rented building in Tribeca.

TheFleaexteriorWhen the building is completed, which is scheduled as early a the Fall of 2014, it will house three theaters: The Sam, named after agent Sam Cohn; The Peter, after playwright A.R. (Pete) Gurney, who has had eight world premiere productions of his plays at The Flea; and The Siggy…named after Sigourney Weaver.
In the video, Weaver talks about the importance of small venues, which “are like a little greenhouse where everything germinates, and feeds the bigger theaters….and the cultural landscape.”

But, befitting an action hero, she also dons a hardhat and knocks down a wall

Click on illustration to see it enlarged

TheFleaGroundbreaking1