Cambridge University 1968. Idealist Stuart Thorne (Josh Cooke) intends to start a literary magazine called “Common Pursuit” (title taken from a book by critic F.R. Leaves) based on the very highest standards. Encouraged by his live-in girlfriend Marigold (Kristen Bush), he calls together a motley group of potential contributors to discuss the ambition. The insecure Martin Musgrove (Jacob Fishel) whose single literary effort to date, a peon to his cat, volunteers to handle the business side. Poet, philosopher, and student of human nature Humphry Taylor (Tim McGeever) has come to collect submitted work he no longer likes. Perpetually hung-over, chain smoking Nick Finchling (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) is hoping to become a cultural curmudgeon despite a complete lack of gravity. Good natured, womanizing Peter Whetworth (Kieran Campion) will write anything needed between conquests. Add a range of sexual orientation and you have neatly defined characters who evolve predictably through the mid 1980s (we zigzag back and forth) becoming merely more like who they seemed at first flush. Over time, our world takes its tithe.
The only two who pull off surprises are Marigold and good, old, loyal Martin. Still, the story rings true and is peppered by entertaining conversation which holds, if doesn’t excite one’s attention. Playwright Simon Gray was also for 20 years a university lecturer in English Literature. His work often explored the lives of academic intellectuals, their hopes, foibles, failures and politics in well observed tales. Reoccurring absent characters add texture. And who cannot understand the inability to live up to one’s own expectations. Though not one of his best, The Common Pursuit exemplifies an intimate tenor in which he excelled and could have been better served with a more able cast.
With the least dialogue, Kristen Bush as Marigold creates a whole, thinking woman whose every gesture and decision seem to come from a solid core. Awareness extends to physicality as the actress incorporates gravity with age. A successful, economical performance.
Tim McGeever (Humphry Taylor) elicits immediate interest and sympathy. Speech and reactions feel completely organic. The actor’s focus is naturalistically compelling – one’s eyes keep wandering back to him. McGeever imbues his character with depth and complexity as a result of which Humphry is one of the very few onstage about whom we care.
Jacob Frishel (Martin Musgrove) grows into his role as the evening progresses. Lucas Near-Verbrugghe (Nick Finchling) is as unbelievable as a congenital smoker (his cough is shallow and pretend-forced) as he is an alcoholic. Josh Cooke (Stuart Thorne) and Kieran Campion (Peter Wentworth), all surface, evoke not a moment of sympathy. British accents are less than what one might expect.
Director Moises Kaufman has effected no distinctions between characters on stage except the words they speak. His pacing is good. Sets by Derek McLane are terrific. With the addition or subtraction of walls and the view through a suspended window, time passes seamlessly. While furniture is being moved by stagehands, eyes are elsewhere. Details like an enormous wall to floor pipe and the bowing of old bookshelves are adept. Renovation of the rooms to which Stuart clings are pitch-perfect.
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
The Common Pursuit by Simon Gray
Directed by Moises Kaufman
With Kristen Bush, Kieran Campion, Josh Cooke,
Jacob Fishel, Tim McGeever, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe
Laura Pels Theater
111 West 46th Street
Through July 29, 2012