Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Family Furniture ***

(Please click on the title to see the complete review.)
The Bard of Buffalo is back with a lovely new play, now in previews at the Flea Theater. Fortunately for us, A.R. Gurney has found a seemingly inexhaustible font of inspiration in the lives of mid-century WASP residents of that city. Through this prism, he has repeatedly given us a vivid portrait of American social mores circa 1950. The present play is an intimate one, depicting events at the summer home of an upper-middle-class Buffalo family. The father Russell (Peter Scolari), devoted to upholding tradition, is unhappy that daughter Peggy (Ismenia Mendes) is seriously involved with an Italian-American. Son Nick (Andrew Keenan-Bolger), a couple years younger, is working hard all summer to buy a car to have at Williams, so he can drive up to Bennington to visit his girlfriend Betsy (Molly Nordin). The mother Claire (Carolyn McCormick) is busy playing tennis at the club, arranging charity events, and, perhaps, having an affair with a family friend. Peggy is dispatched to Europe for a month to get her away from her boyfriend, with unanticipated consequences. Nick has great difficulty coming to terms with his mother's possible adultery. Two beautiful scenes for father and daughter and another for mother and son were, for me, the highlights of the play. I was puzzled why Russell and Claire seemed much less concerned about their son dating a Jew than about their daughter dating an Italian. A scene in which Betsy tries to help Nick break out of his personal crisis by reading a scene from Hamlet seemed contrived and could have easily been omitted. In fact, I would have omitted the character of Betsy entirely, because the scenes with her diluted the intimacy of the family scenes a bit. The cast is excellent Rachel Hauck's minimalist set, consisting of a few tables, a couple of benches, a chair and a bookshelf, works just fine. Claudia Brown's costumes evoke the period effectively. Thomas Kail's direction is unobtrusive and assured. It's not a major Gurney work, but is nonetheless satisfying. Running time: 95 minutes, no intermission.

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