Associate New York Theatre Critic
Given the long-term relationship that existed between A.R. Gurney and Primary Stages, it is befitting that the prolific playwright requested his agent to send his newest one act play “Final Follies” to the theater company for production in 2017. It turned out to be ominously and aptly titled since he passed soon after, leaving this to be the last play of his legacy in the American Theater. Mr. Gurney was heralded as one of the most astute chroniclers of WASP culture, both heralding and ridiculing their traditions, to achieve fresh revelations in the current socio-political atmosphere. The first production of Primary Stages 2018/2019 season is a tryptic of three one acts, the first being “Final Follies,” followed by “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz” which comprises the first act and “The Love Course” which stands alone in act two.
The first piece “Final Follies” deals with Nelson, a complete failure on the employment scene, a privileged male supported by his wealthy Grandfather who raised him but the good-looking brother in the family. His latest escapade is aspiring to become a porn star even though he professes to be shy. Although this short one act may address the sexual repression that may exist in this culture it does not explore what motivates the characters. When asked why he wants to act in adult films by the interviewer and former leading lady, who he falls in love with, he replies “money.”
The evening then moves on to “The Rape of Bunny Stuntz” an early work from 1965, which is a bit darker and deals with the hidden desires of the perfect suburban matron who is chairing a civic meeting which falls apart when she is confronted by an offstage, socially undesirable male who claims to know her intimately. She surrenders to her sexual desires, abandons her civic duties and realizes that the masquerade of her life was empty. This play was the first attempt of Mr. Gurney to create a role for the audience becoming a passive partner in the events and proceedings that take place. Neither of these pieces in the first act come close to the wit and satire audiences are accustomed too when viewing the playwrights well known works.
In act two “The Love Course” from 1969 is the most entertaining part of the evening, filled with exaggerated characters and unrealistic circumstances. It is a play about two colleagues teaching a class together which examines the aspect of “love” in some of the greatest plays and novels in literary history. The plot suggests that the subject matter of the course may invade the private lives of those who teach it. Going one step further is the possibility that the process of teaching may contain erotic elements. Although the outcome is quite predictable it is quite humorous to watch the proceedings.
The entire cast is more than competent under the careful direction of David Saint who moves the evening along at a steady pace. Mr. Saint does what he can with the new and antiquated scripts, as do the actors, but they all fall short of covering up the obvious flaws. Most of the work seems shallow, without substance, mostly because of weak character development. Perhaps a line spoken by Bunny Stuntz to the audience when she is trying to convene her meeting, may possibly sum up the evening one acts, “Now while we’re waiting – why are we here? Is it fair to ask that?” As it turns out the audience is only waiting for something to happen, but it never does.
The cast of “Final Follies” features Betsy Aidem, Colin Hanlon, Mark Junek, Piter Marek, Greg Mullavey, Rachel Nicks, and Deborah Rush.
“Final Follies” features scenic design by James Youmans, costume design by David Murin, lighting design by Cory Pattak, sound design by Scott Killian, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting.
Primary Stages’ “Final Follies” runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday, October 21, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticket purchase, visit https://primarystages.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes, including one intermission.
Photo: Deborah Rush and Piter Marek in "The Rape of Bunny Stuntz. Credit: James Leynse.