Three ball busting women and their p-whipped men, a pushy father and his lackluster son, an adulterous traveling salesman (is there any other kind?) form the guest roster at a chintzy motor inn outside of Boston. Add the wise bimbo waitress who works there, and you have five pairs of stories. What does each couple have in common? One partner craves something the other doesn’t want. There lies the “drama” in this rather banal play by A.R. Gurney, first produced by the Manhattan Theater Club in 1977. Reviving modern classics for new generations has been a calling for the Signature Theatre. But I wondered how this particular work of Gurney’s elucidates our understanding of the human condition. The Wayside Motor Inn is little more than a soap opera disguised as significant anthropology.
We first meet Ray, the corporate sales rep (Quincy Dunn-Baker) as he routinely sets himself up in his umpteenth motel room. Enter Frank (Jon DeVries) and wife Jessie (Lizbeth Mackay) staying at the motor inn to be near their daughter who just gave them a grandchild. Frank is pooped from Jessie’s incessant nagging and trivial chattering. He sees the world with the glass half empty. Jessie is heartbroken and restless, as their senior years have brought her no purpose.
Frank and Jessie are physically on the same motel room set as Ray. They don’t speak to him. Is this a dysfunctional family reunion? It may take the entrance of Vince (Marc Kudisch) and his son Mark (Will Pullen) to realize that they aren’t all actually in the same room. The cross talk begins, lines intersecting from unrelated episodes of humanity.
Vince is the father, born of immigrants, who pulled himself up by the bootstraps. He is dead set on seeing his son Mark enter Harvard, though Mark has produced 500s in his SAT scores and suffers from colitis induced by his father’s ambition. Vince reads historical brochures and views the highway cloverleaf seen from the motel window with wonder. If only he could impart his overachieving desire to Mark who wants to take a gap year working as a mechanic before attending State University.
Next come Phil (David McElwee) and Sally (Ismenia Mendes), two college students who paid thirty-two dollars for the privacy they can’t find in a dorm. Phil expects a night of hot sex, but Sally holds back for reasons perhaps Freud or Doctor Masters could explain. Then we have Andy (Kelly AuCoin) and his estranged wife Ruth (Rebecca Henderson) bickering over the division of chairs, tables, and family photos in the divorce.
A welcome relief to this tedium is the entrance of Sharon (Jenn Lyon), the waitress with room service for Ray. She crusades against the adulterated food she must serve guests, as well as the monolithic corporate monster destroying us. She and the married Ray nearly spend a night together, but she changes her mind when he won’t go home with her to meet her mother. Ms. Lyon’s character and delivery are delightfully reminiscent of Madeline Kahn and Judy Holliday.
Mr. Gurney must have made charts while writing this piece, designing who says what when. The dialogue veers from story to story, overlapping with increasing frequency. I’ll give it to the cast that follows these cues and to director Lila Neugebauer for staging the actors’ paths with the illusion that they are in different motel rooms. There is always a danger with vignettes, linked only by geography, of not being emotionally compelling. This production falls into that trap.
The Wayside Motor Inn – By A.R. Gurney; directed by Lila Neugebauer
WITH: Kelly AuCoin (Andy), Jon DeVries (Frank), Quincy Dunn-Baker (Ray), Rebecca Henderson (Ruth), Marc Kudisch (Vince), Jenn Lyon (Sharon), Lizbeth Mackay (Jessie), David McElwee (Phil), Ismenia Mendes (Sally), Will Pullen (Mark).
sets by Andrew Lieberman; lighting by Tyler Micoleau; sound by Stowe Nelson; costumes by Kaye Voyce; dialect coach, Charlotte Fleck; casting by Telsey and Company, William Cantler, CSA; production stage manager, Donald Fried; publicity, Boneau/Bryan-Brown. Presented by Signature Theatre, Founding Artistic Director James Houghton; Executive Director Erika Mallin. At The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42ndStreet, between 9th and 10th Avenues. For tickets, go to Signaturetheatre.org or call (212) 244-7529. Through September 28. Running time: 2 hours with intermission.