By David Walters
The one-act play Final Follies was the last play written by A.R. (Pete) Gurney before he left us in June of 2017. It’s the title of the evening produced by Primary Stages and currently running at Cherry Lane Theatre and the first one out of the gate of the evening of three Gurney one-acts from different times of his life.
Final Follies (the one-act) felt like a draft of a great one-act to be and starts us off with ringing the clear-toned familiar Gurney bell of the demise of the WASP culture. The premise: Failed teacher/banker Nelson (Colin Hanlon) is applying for a job, for the first time completely on his own merits, as a performer in the porn industry in order to make money. He has failed disgracefully at everything else his rich eccentric grandfather (Greg Mullavey) set him up for, and being the favorite grandson, his pride won’t let him take a cash handout, so thus the job hunt. He feels he can “rise to the occasion” in this position because he used to get pretty good parts in his school plays, private school. A former actress of, “discreet adult videos which have therapeutic value,” now casting director, Tanisha, (Rachel Nicks) falls for his charms and without seeing all his private school private parts gives him a shot. He succeeds. His brother Walter (Mark Junek), always the second favorite grandson who has done all the “heavy lifting” in the family, gets wind of his brother’s new occupation and in a wonderful scene with grandpa watching one of Nelson’s movies, attempts to shame his brother and thus save the family. To his chagrin, Grandpa is entranced with the show and urges Walter to treasure the DVD as it will one day be considered, “a valuable piece of American art.” After grandpa dies and leaves 50/50 to each grandson, Nelson quits the adult video biz and buys a boat and sailing lessons in order to sail the New England coast and drink Martini cocktails with his fellow tribesmen at the Yacht Club, taking Tanisha with him.
The Rape of Bunny Stuntz (one of his earliest works and originally produced at Cherry Lane in 1965) puts us in the audience of a meeting being chaired by the overly cheerful, wonderfully bouffanted, Bunny Stuntz (played by the indomitable Deborah Rush) who has lost the key to the strong box that contains the meeting agenda and minutes, and which she cannot proceed without. She is barred from going home to get the key, “just 15 minutes away,” by a mysterious man, first in a red Impala in the parking lot and then later visibly lurking by the stage door. This mysterious man, who we never see, figuratively pries open the door to the darkness of Bunny’s existence and unhappiness that roils beneath the surface of her life. The ambiguity of action in the piece leaves room for the audience to add their own lives to an interpretation, and the title refers to a life lived, as much as to an act committed.
Written in 1969, the final piece of the evening, The Love Course, is a hilarious romp through the western literature of tragic love. Professor Carroway (Betsy Aidem) and Professor Burgess (Piter Marek) wallow in their parts like vociferous Turks. The professors have been co-teaching the course through the semester and this is the final class. With the exclamation, “I want to resolve, if we possibly can, all the great themes of love which have obsessed us and the Western World, from February up until now,” Professor Carroway launches the piece and the pent-up emotions that have been piling up between both professors. Lots of laugh out loud moments, and if you’re an English major, you’ll have a grand time with this.
A clean versatile tradeshow-like minimalistic set, designed by James Youmans, with a projection screen placing us in each local, works very well and allows for quick scene changes.
It’s an enjoyable evening visiting the work of one of our great playwrights.
Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theater
By A.R. Gurney, directed by David Saint
Cast: Betsy Aidem, Colin Hanlon, Mark Junek, Piter Marek, Greg Mullavey, Rachel Nicks and Deborah Rush
Running time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission
Tickets: $82 – $152. Student rush $20.
Final Follies runs through October 21, 2018
8PM Tuesdays-Saturdays; 2PM Saturdays; 3PM Sundays; 2PM Wednesday 10 October only
There will be no 8pm performance on Wednesday, October 10.
There will be no 2pm performance on Wednesday, October 17
Final Follies opened Oct. 2, 2018 and runs through Oct. 21 at the Cherry Lane Theatre. Tickets and information: primarystages.org