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Written by A.R. Gurney; directed by David Saint
Performances through October 21, 2018
Colin Hanlon and Rachel Nicks in A.R. Gurney's Final Follies (photo: James Leynse)
When A.R. Gurney died last year at age 86, we lost our most elegant playwright, a witty and urbane chronicler of the upper crust who, in the last 15 years—spurred on by outrage at the excesses of the Bush administration after September 11—became an unapologetically polemical artist, writing angry plays of the dystopia our country was rapidly becoming. (He never got to take on Trump, but it’s just as well: nothing he could have written would have out-parodied actual reality.)
Before his death, Gurney wrote a one-acter, Final Follies, which Primary Stages has coupled with two of earlier works—The Rape of Bunny Stuntz and The Love Course—for an omnibus evening titled Final Follies, a heartfelt goodbye from one of the theaters that produced his works the most.
First up, Final Follies introduces Nelson, a WASP who needs money because he thinks he’s to be cut from his grandfather’s will. He responds to a newspaper ad for work in adult films—or, as the firm’s representative Tanisha calls them, “educational films”—and becomes a big star. Nelson’s jealous brother discovers his secret and shows an offending film to their grandfather and is shocked to discover that, contrary to disowning Nelson, he admires his grandson’s artistry and daring.
Final Follies takes obvious shots—some funny, some not—at his favorite Upper East Side targets. But despite being written in 2017, there’s an old-fashioned air to the whole thing, as if the internet and social media had never been created, making it seem as if the play exists in an alternate present. It’s brightened considerably by the presence of Rachel Nicks (Tanisha) and Colin Hanlon (Nelson).
The following playlet, The Rape of Bunny Stuntz, brings its eponymous heroine (a tour de force performance by Deborah Rush) to her figurative knees as the self-confident woman slowly admits that she’s not the faithful, dutiful wife and mother she’s supposed to be. Gurney wrote the play in 1965, its absurdism indebted to Edward Albee (who produced its first New York performance at the Cherry Lane); in this age of Me Too, it leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.
The finale, The Love Course, is a free-wheeling satire of academia as two professors conduct what for all intents and purposes is a love affair in plain sight of their students while teaching a course on the Literature of Love. Reminiscent of Woody Allen’s artful and witty short stories and impressively enacted by Piter Marek and Betsy Aidem as the battling profs, it’s an amusingly goofy close to a bumpy trio of one-acts that, while minor Gurney works, are reminders of what he could achieve at his best.
Primary Stages, Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, New York, NY
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