By Tulis McCall
Sophomoric. That is the word for this play. Love & Money by A. R. Gurney, now at the Pershing Square Signature Center, has so many holes in the plot that it seems more like a frivolous writing exercise created on a rainy afternoon than anything that should be taken seriously.
Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman) described in the script as a “Lady Of A Certain Age” (not kidding) is filthy rich and giving it all away. She has decided to move to a pricey retirement community that is the Jews like, and that is a good thing because Jews are very particular. Why she is moving, when she could afford to stay in her Upper East Side townhouse and have hot and cold running everything? Who knows. Her age is never mentioned, although Anderman appears to be playing Cornelia as a woman in her 80’s, which is a 20 year leap.
Why retire when she is so bright and engaged in life? Cornelia is sharp as a tack and nearly a card carrying Communist. One wonders how she will survive in a retirement community, in spite of the college professors and Jews who will keep her interested.
Anyway, her gifting is what is at the center of this flimsy tale. The bulk of everything will go to Save The Children. Her own are dead and her two grandchildren have been allotted a substantial sum each to let them live a constructive life. If they ever figure out how. So much for the family.
A junior lawyer Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik) from her firm arrives to go over the details with her and try and talk her into something more conservative. Why? Again we never hear a plausible argument or even a debate. As part of his mission Harvey must ask Cornelia questions about herself – facts that he should already know – and this gives Gurney a chance to paint a picture of Cornelia who is practically a victim of wealth. Money is the root of all evil, and Cornelia is going to get rid of hers ASAP. Well not ALL of it. She will keep what she needs of course. Can’t be without comforts, you know.
Into this meaningless conversation is introduced a fly. There is a young man out there in the world who is claiming to be Cornelia’s grandson and who is making noises about getting some of that evil money. Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown) seems to have surfaced since the publication of an article in a Buffalo newspaper that featured Cornelia (home town gal) and her decision to give away her fortune. A letter has been sent to her lawyers. Soon, Walker shows up on Cornelia’s doorstep and he is welcomed in because Cornelia is a sucker for a good story. Walker is black, by the way. And lest you think this is déjà vu all over again, Cornelia actually makes reference to Six Degrees of Separation when she is debating with Scott about the voracity of his claim. Wink. Wink.
The past is served up on silver trays. Cole Porter, the Ivy Club, F. Scott Fitzgerald. Cornelia appears fascinated by her past, but on the other hand she is firmly rooted in the present. She is up on current affairs. Life and living fascinate her. This decision to flee the city makes no sense and therefore the story has no validity.
The entire play is a series of moments that either contradict or do not connect to one another. As if to underscore this disconnect, there is not one comfortable seat in this Brownstone other than the chair behind Cornelia’s desk. The characters stand and speak like guests at a cocktail party who are waiting for someone to serve the first round of drinks.
The mystery of Walker Williams identity, that could have been solved with a simple DNA test, is instead stretched out into 70 or so minutes of palaver. Why this play is being produced, when there are boatloads of good plays out there pining away for a friendly nod, is a mystery. And a waste of precious time. Cornelia would have walked out, in spite of the fact that there was no intermission.
Credits Written by A.R. Gurney; Directed by Mark Lamos
Cast Maureen Anderman as Cornelia Cunningham, Gabriel Brown as Walker “Scott” Williams, Pamela Dunlap as Agnes Munger, Kahyun Kim as Jessica Worth and Joe Paulik as Harvey Abel