Allison Gilman ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
A.R. Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour, a self-referential comedy of manners, hits the Huntington Theatre Company with drunken splendor.
As the title indicates, the play takes place during the cocktail hour at a typical upper-class household in the 1970s. John (James Waterston), a playwright, has come to visit his parents, Bradley (Richard Poe) and Ann (Maureen Anderman), to have them read his new play.
However, the night takes a turn when John reveals, during the cocktail hour no less, that his family is the subject of his play. His parents and sister, Nina (Pamela J. Gray), are less than thrilled to have their lives acted out onstage, as they (correctly) suspect John to have portrayed them in an unfavorable light. And as the cocktail hour goes on due to several mishaps in the kitchen, accusations are strewn, relationships are tested, and secrets from the past are unearthed to reveal the true nature of their love for one another.
Gurney’s play is semi-autobiographical (the script John has written is fittingly also titled “The Cocktail Hour”) and the onstage dilemma of a writer torn between his work and his family seems eerily familiar; it is as if we are watching the play write itself. Gurney captures the WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) culture to a tee, especially personified in John’s parents, who are brought to life by the immensely talented Poe and Anderman.
A gorgeously realistic set (including a fully furnished room through a doorway that is barely visible to the audience) by Allen Moyer helps transport us into their world of class, elegance, and booze, and understand why John (and Gurney himself) found this lifestyle such apt material for the stage.
And that it is. Gurney’s easy dialogue and dry comedic touch made a show that probably is better suited for someone twice my age both accessible and entertaining. Though show rides on the shoulders of Waterston’s John, it is Anderman’s performance as his mother that draws us in and keeps us interested. The scene in which she opens up to John (the obligatory scene, as he points out) was a touching break from the nonstop, albeit humorous, scream-fest, and was delivered beautifully.
Though Gurney wrote The Cocktail Hour in ’88 and dates it back a decade before that, this play seems just as relevant in 2013. And while the struggles John is experiencing in trying to reconcile his parents with the creative choices he’s made in his adult life are not something everyone can relate to as much as Gurney himself. The overarching themes of disappointment, betrayal and loyalty are universal, and why the show ultimately proved successful.
But thankfully, though Gurney laced his play with some serious familial strife, to make it palatable, it is delivered through booze-induced comedy to make it honest without making it a self-indulgent sob story.
The Cocktail Hour runs until December 15 at the Avenue of the Arts/BU Theatre.