Aired on KSDS-FM on 9/16/16
RUN DATES: 9/7/16 – 10/8/16
VENUE: North Coast Repertory Theatre
So, what do you think your family would say if you informed them that you’d written a play about them? And your play was called “The Cocktail Hour.” And you told them during the household’s inviolable cocktail hour, in a show called “The Cocktail Hour.”
A.R. Gurney’s 1988 comedy of manners is so clever and meta and autobiographical. A little too smug and self-satisfied for my taste. Oh, and let’s not forget the lampooning of theater itself. Not to mention a rather polite skewering of the privileged Buffalo class the playwright came from.
Onstage, it’s the 1970s in upstate New York, a time when theater is, according to the paterfamilias, a place where all they do is “shout obscenities, then take their clothes off.” Literature is quoted, sometimes erroneously. The hired help is berated – behind their backs, of course. Swearing is déclassé and will not be tolerated. The mother wears pearls and does needlepoint, while deflecting any provocative conversation. She does, however, get visibly upset by a ruined roast.
The grown brother and sister, parents themselves, trade some pointed barbs, and have unsettled issues. But the real confrontation comes between father and son.
John, who’s always felt neglected, spent his life clamoring for attention, and perhaps that’s what he’s doing now, too, stirring up unwanted emotions (that would be most emotions in this buttoned-down group).
By Act 2, after countless rounds of drinks, truths are revealed, everyone comes clean and pursues a long-suppressed dream, and all’s right with the patrician world.
Gurney sees wealthy East coast Brahmins as a dying breed, and he’s spent his career chronicling them. Though there are a few amusing lines here, this clan is basically a tedious, unlikable bunch.
But at North Coast Repertory Theatre, the design is aptly tasteful and, under the direction of Rosina Reynolds, the excellent performances are thoroughly convincing, even if the neatly packaged ending isn’t. Somehow, more ethnic families seem to have more interesting neuroses and outbursts – though father/son mutual misunderstanding never goes out of style. If only it were so easily resolved.
©2016 PAT LAUNER, San Diego Theater Reviews