Theater review: Gurney’s ‘Black Tie’: Been there, done that

Saturday, June 30, 2012
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— Playwright A.R. Gurney has taken it upon himself to chronicle the decline of an endangered species. It’s a noble effort and one to be lauded. His crusade waves no flag of koala, emu or puffin. Its banner is the WASP, that crafty creature that roams the landscape of the country club, tennis court and hedge fund.

Gurney buffs up all the inhabitants in this shivery, shrinking world of the cold and beautiful, placing them center stage for us to examine and mourn, as they fight decay and self-sacrifice. No playwright captures this spectacle better than Gurney.

From the bold theatricality of “The Dining Room” to his borrowed story of angst by the sea in “Children,” Gurney’s insight into the world of the privileged and pathetic is always sharp, tinged with just the right amount of humor. But as keen, clever and prolific as Gurney may be, he keeps writing the same play. The protagonists may shift from wayward son to eccentric aunt, and the locale may move from a perfect party to an expansive prewar apartment, but the overlaid theme is always the same — the decline and assimilation of the White Anglo Saxon Protestant.

‘Black Tie’

WHERE: Adirondack Theatre Festival, Charles R. Wood Theater, 207 Glen St., Glens Falls

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today

HOW MUCH: $40-$25

MORE INFO: 874-0800 or www.atfestival.org

In his latest, “Black Tie,” currently in production at Adirondack Theater Festival, the crisis of social importance takes place at a wedding. Should Curtis carry on tradition by wearing “evening clothes” to his son’s wedding? This is heady stuff, but thank goodness, Curtis’ father — aka Ghost Dad — arrives to crease out the wrinkles and offer some insight.

Related story

For Gazette theater writer Bill Buell's preview of this show, click here.

As Curtis and Ghost Dad confer and agree, Curtis’ wife, son, daughter and daughter-in-law-to-be, all have a different opinion about tradition and social mores. What’s a dad to do? How will Ghost Dad help? Will the wedding take place? Will a bridge of understanding be crossed? Let’s be reminded that soap operas are becoming an endangered species — for a reason.

Most of the actors are able to raise their heads above the script. David Bunce manages well with the milquetoast and blandly drawn Curtis offering some hint of depth and subtlety in a character that was raised to be strong and quiet. Brenny Rabine as his wife, Mimi, does her best to keep the action moving even as the script stalls.

As the Ghost Dad, Thom Christopher’s mellifluous vocal choices do evoke a sense of the upper classes of days past. But no amount of his honeyed delivery can hide his lack of emotional connect. Christopher offers up a character so emotionally removed and sterile that if he blurted out “Dinner’s ready, Dowager Countess,” it wouldn’t seem out of place. But this fault is not entirely Christopher’s. Little honest advice or insight does this character have to impart to his son (or the audience).

Gurney tries to disguise the void by ramping up the whimsy. Every so often, Ghost Dad starts talking in the third person. In fact, he spouts stage directions, including the clever but sadly truncated — “Exit Ghost, Stage Right.” Missing, of course, was “pursued by bear,” sadly dashing a longed-for crack at something of interest to take place, even if it was offstage.

What receding tradition will Gurney “dramatize” next? Rumor has it, he will riff on the sad disappearance of embossed personal stationery by the insidious empire of email. The plot? Conflicts arise when a young hipster tells her pearl-clad Vassar grad mom that stamps are pretentious and she instead wants to tweet to her peeps to thank them for the nifty gifts that she received at her “piercing party.” Mom wails, jokes sail, glasses clink and belly rings link as they compromise and cry in a mirthquake of family dysfunction.

 

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