LATER LIFE

LaterLife012

Written by A.R. Gurney
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein

Well served by the perennially solid Keen Company, A. R. Gurney’s Clinton-era seriocomedy pins its astute psychological insights to a clever theatrical conceit. As the two romantic leads carry the main story line, two versatile supporting players stretch their acting muscles (and the wardrobe department’s ingenuity) as they morph into cavalcade of incidental characters. The production falls just a hair shy of the crisply timed delivery the material demands. But it will no doubt tighten during the run as the actors – all of them equipped with remarkable comedic skills- become more accustomed to the show’s myriad costume changes and entrance cues. As for the script, it’s old school in the best sense of the word. Taking in place in real time and in a single setting, the story unfolds naturally, with just a hint of farcicality, like a splash of crème to cassis in a glass of champagne, to keep things interesting.

On a balmy night in Boston, dapper Austin (Laurence Lau), attends an elegant soiree held in a swanky apartment overlooking the harbor. His fashion-conscious friend Sally (Jodie Markell in the first of her many roles) tells Austin to wait on the rooftop patio while she fetches a friend she wants him to meet. Austin scarcely has time to take in the view before his reverie is punctured by the arrival of Jimmy (Liam Craig in the first of his many roles), an eccentric college professor who sermonizes on the virtues of smoking even as he struggles to give it up. There are many such episodes throughout the next 90 minutes, as a series of endearingly odd party guests wander out to the roof, disrupting the growing intimacy between Austin and Ruth (Barbara Garrick). At first, the two seem to be, as Sally predicted, perfect for each other. But as the evening wears on, they discover they have profound differences as well. For their budding romance to have a chance, Austin will have to overcome his New England stuffiness, Ruth to resist the impulse to reunite with her dangerous-but-exciting ex-husband. Large questions loom as well. Does later life bring greater self-awareness and therefore better odds of getting it right? Or are we, like Jimmy and his cigarettes, fated to repeat old patterns even when we’re old enough to know better?

Jonathan Silverstein, handles the story’s blend brightness and melancholy with a light, but never timid touch. Steven Kemp’s set and David Lander’s lights vividly underscore the story’s shifting moods, making the rooftop background a kind of character in its own right. Jennifer Paar’s opulent costumes speak volumes about the personalities and social training of a sprightly Ruth, staid Austin, and motley host of revelers. Wig and hair artists Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas rise to the show’s challenges with panache and precision.

LATER LIFE continues through April 4, 2018 at The Clurman Theatre, 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Aves) New York, NY 10036. Tickets at http://www.telecharge.com.

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THE LONELIEST NUMBER

Resized-500-Leigh-Williams-and-Maurice-Jones-in-The-Loneliest-Number_MarioGonzales

Written by Lizzie Vieh
Directed by Maria Dizzia

The course of true love never did run smooth. In fact, for the denizens of Lizzie Vieh’s confounding universe, even arranging a casual kinky encounter can be fraught with hazards.

John (Maurice Jones) Wendy (Leigh Williams) have reached an impasse in their marriage. The initial passion that drew them together has cooled, and because a bout with testicular cancer has rendered John infertile, they haven’t been able to start a family.  Desperate to liven up their intimacy, the couple decide to experiment with threesomes. The way some couples decide what to see on movie night, they take turns choosing third partners. Wendy’s picks eccentric (possibly mildly autistic) coworker Kevin (Justin Yorio), whose social awkwardness makes John uncomfortable. As it turns out, Kevin is up for the ménage a trois, but for the wrong reasons. He’s deeply in love with Wendy, and will do anything to be close to her. This wasn’t in the plan, but Wendy likes being desired and begins seeing Kevin on the sly. Further complications arise when it’s John’s turn to choose. Free-spirited Arianne (Cassandra Paras), is game for some polyamory, but Wendy begins to lose her nerve. What she really wants, it seems, is out of the marriage. But when John’s illness returns and Kevin’s dark side emerges, she is forced to search her soul for the right answer.

Intriguingly, the male characters are more emotionally available than the women in the play. John, especially, careens to extremes of feeling as both his marriage and his health become increasingly unstable. Under Maria Dizzia’s bold direction, Jones throws himself into the role with powerful rawness and vulnerability. In less mercurial but equally challenging roles, Williams, Yorio and Paras maintain the honesty and spontaneity the material demands. Vieh’s script is tender and insightful, and the issues it probes are timely. But there’s potential here for further exploration of the characters’ drives and desires. It never becomes clear what Wendy’s looking for as she channel surfs through different life choices. And Arianne is likable, but, outside of a brief sermon on the virtues of eco-friendly dry cleaning, exhibits almost zero passion. As it is, THE LONELIEST NUMBER is a moving evening of theater. A more fully-rendered cast of characters would raise it to a higher level.

THE LONELIEST NUMBER continues through March 10, 2018,  at The Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente Soto Vélez Center, 107 Suffolk Street, in Manhattan. For tickets, call 646-299-2140 or visit http://www.amios.nyc.