Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black Tie ***

I have long been a fan of A.R. Gurney, so it came as no surprise that I greatly enjoyed his latest play Black Tie at Primary Stages. Early on, Gurney found his niche and stuck to it. Future cultural anthropologists need only study Gurney's collected plays to find out what it meant to be a WASP in 20th century America. This time out we meet Curtis (Gregg Edelman) who is dressing for his son's rehearsal dinner and thinking about the toast he must give. He has donned his late father's tuxedo (or evening suit, as his father would insist) which he has had altered for the occasion. Teddy, the groom (Ari Brand), is to wear Curtis's tuxedo, which Curtis has outgrown. Symbolism, anyone? When Curtis looks in the mirror, lo and behold, he evokes the ghost of his father (Daniel Davis, in a plummy role) who steps out from behind the mirror to advise him. A man untroubled by doubt, he knew the socially appropriate behavior for every occasion. With occasional interruptions from Curtis's wife Mimi (the excellent Carolyn McCormick) and daughter Elsie (Elvy Yost), neither of whom can see him, the father proceeds to instruct Curtis on how to give the perfect toast. Midway through the 85-minute play, we encounter a series of ever-escalating surprises funny enough (just barely) to outweigh their implausibility. With humor that is never mean-spirited, Gurney pokes fun at WASPS, East Coast liberals, and contemporary social mores. Midst the humor, he raises substantive questions about the role of tradition, continuity and the meaning of love. John Arone's set of a hotel room in a second-rate Adirondack hotel has all the proper accouterments, including antlers and a mounted fish. Mark Lamos, who has done right by Gurney on previous occasions, does so once again here.

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