A Pair of New Productions by Celebrated Playwrights
by Anthony Chase
Gurney and Ayckbourn
Two shows opening on Buffalo’s stages this week feature venerable astonishingly prolific playwrights, one, not only American but Buffalonian; the other, British.
A.R. Gurney’s Family Furniture
The Kavinoky Theatre is offering the area premiere of A.R. Gurney’s Family Furniture, set on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie during the 1950s. Lisa Ludwig plays Claire, the charismatic wife and mother in a patrician Buffalo family who, it seems, is restless in her marriage. As the play begins, Claire’s husband has tried to reach her at her hotel in New York City, where she has gone to purchase slipcovers, to see if some Brooks Brothers shirts have been delivered. He is concerned to learn that the shirts are at the hotel, but Claire is not—and it is after 11 o’clock at night. Gurney examines the impact of this barely detectable undercurrent in a sturdy WASP family on the couple’s children. Tom Zindle plays the husband. Peter Palmisano directs.
In New York, Carolyn McCormick was universally praised for her elegant and marvelously nuanced performance as Claire.
Gurney has enjoyed a long and varied career. His plays make elegant and surprising use of highly theatrical devices. In The Dining Room, actors played multiple characters traversing an empty space that serves as a vast variety of family dining rooms; Wayside Motor Inn effects similar theatrical magic with multiple overlapping narratives in a single motel room. In Sylvia, an actress plays the family dog that almost undermines a marriage. In Later Life, two actors play all of the various guests at a cocktail party hosted by a couple in Boston. In Love Letters, actors sitting side by side relate the story of a relationship simply by reading letters aloud.
Family Furniture comes from a category of Buffalo family plays that includes Indian Blood, What I Did Last Summer, Black Tie, The Cocktail Hour, Crazy Mary, and Children. The play has a Chekhovian sense of indirect action. We are most concerned with the events we do not see.
Alan Ayckbourn’s Snake In The Grass
Meanwhile, over at the Marie Maday Theatre in Lyon’s Hall at Canisius College, Red Thread Theatre present’s Alan Ayckbourn’s Snake in the Grass. Ayckbourn, sometimes called England’s Neil Simon, has over 70 plays to his credit, including Absurd Person Singular, The Norman Conquests Trilogy, Bedroom Farce, and Man of the Moment. He shares Gurney’s sense of theatricality and fondness for overlapping spaces and character doubling, but tends to use broader strokes. In this play, part of his Things that Go Bump trilogy, two sisters from a troubled family reunite after the death of their abusive father. We quickly learn that daddy did not exactly die of natural causes. Add to the mix a caretaker who knows too much and we are swept up in family intrigue.
The play features three actors in three scenes, all set in the garden of the family home. Eileen Dugan, Pamela Rose Mangus, and Adria Ryan play the sisters and the dead father’s companion.
Both plays continue through February 1st.
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