A.R. Gurney is cemented into theater history for exploring the declining upper class “wasp.” In the first of these slight one-acts, Final Follies, the protagonist actually uses the phrase repeatedly. Nelson (Colin Hanlon, a preppy magazine cover if there ever was one), having refused an allowance from his blue blood grandfather, answers an ad to act in porn videos. Excuse me, as clarified by receptionist Tanisha (Rachel Nicks), “discreet adult videos that have therapeutic value.”
He achieves popularity, is tattled on by jealous brother, Walter (Mark Junek), and, much to the prissy sibling’s chagrin, cheered by grandpa (Greg Mullavey). Current goal: to buy a sailboat, moor at various yacht clubs, and drink martinis. Characters are clichés, plot weak. Hanlon is credibly obtuse and insipid. Nice to see the solid Mullavey again.
Betsy Aidem, Deborah Rush
The Rape of Bunny Stuntz is about as close to theater of the absurd as the grounded Gurney gets. In this obscure piece, Bunny (Deborah Rush), tightly wound chairlady of we know not what, can’t open a meeting because she’s lost the key to a box containing everything necessary. Trying to help (kind of) are janitor, Howie (Piter Marek), and club member, Wilma (Betsy Aidem.) Outside waits an ominous man with whom Bunny may or may not have just had a liaison in a motel room. We care about no one. Rush does a fine, brittle job.
Only in The Love Course, does the stage deserve our attention. Professors Burgess (Piter Marek) and Carroway (Betsy Aidem) have been teaching a popular course together at a nameless college. Its syllabus, on a blackboard, features romance novels with which we’re all familiar. This is not only the last class of the term, but the course’s demise. Carroway has been denied tenure and is moving to another school, while Burgess accepted an administrative position where they are.
Rachel Nicks, Betsy Aisem, Piter Marek
Peripheral, but handy to action, are devoted student Sally (Rachel Nicks), and her boyfriend Mike (Colin Hanlon), who’s observing the class.
It seems that the single Carraway and married Burgess have been conducting a torrid affair of the mind without ever meeting outside of class. Delving deep into their characters, enacting poems, novels, and plays, the two create palpable, often histrionic heat. Parentheses of this are wonderful to watch. Aidem and Marek, who were caricatures in the preceding play, excel here. Both are splendid.
When Burgess leaves early for a meeting, Carraway becomes a woman scorned. He’s drawn back to her and ensnared only to face an unexpected response. The play has vivid characters, a neat premise, and a strong arc. Next time it’s presented, however, accompanying pieces might be better selected.
Betsy Aidem, Piter Marek
Excepting Bunny, Director David Saint doesn’t do much to help make characters in the first two pieces more than cartoons. Stage action and pacing are good. Skill is apparent in the third play with timing, physical acting, use of the theater on and off stage.
David Murin’s Costumes are spot on, especially in Love Course.
Photos by James Leynse
Opening: Colin Hanlon, Rachel Hicks
Primary Stages presents
Final Follies- three one-act plays by A.R. Gurney
Directed by David Saint
Through October 21, 2018
Cherry Lane Theatre
38 Commerce Street