Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Off-Broadway Theater Review: Love and Money

Love and Money Aren’t Enough for Us to Buy New Gurney Play
By Lauren Yarger
In case you are confused, the world premiere of A.R. Gurney’s latest play, Love and Money at Off-Broadways Signature Center really already had a run (from July 21-Aug.8) at the Westport Country Playhouse.

Your confusion might come from the fact that the Connecticut production was declared a “preview” in anticipation of the New York run and wasn’t made available for review by critics in Connecticut. Critics protested. The Hartford Courant reviewed it any way as a service to its readers. Let’s just say when theaters request you don’t review a show presented as part of their regular seasons, there usually is a reason…

In the case of Love and Money, director Mark Lamos might have been trying to protect Wesport Playhouse favorite Gurney from bad reviews. Three weeks of “previews” at Westport did not improve a play that has not progressed much beyond a draft.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like Gurney, who is a playwright in residence at Signature for the 2014-2015 season (What I Did Last Summer and The Wayside Motor Inn also were presented there) and who has a revival of one of my favorites of his plays, Sylvia, coming to Broadway this fall. He just doesn’t hit the mark with this latest.

In Love and Money, Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman) has put tags on all of her belongings in her Upper East Side brownstone in anticipation of selling them or giving them away. Money, she has decided, is a curse, and she’s giving all of her sizable estate away to charity. Her two children have died and she doesn’t want to burden her grandchildren with any of the curse. Save the Children and some other charities will benefit instead.

Her attorney, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), advises her to rethink that plan since it could be contested – especially by Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown), who claims to be her late daughter’s son after a newspaper article appears detailing Cornelia’s intention to give away her money.

When the smooth-talking African-American shows up unexpectedly at Cornelia’s home, he charms his way into an invitation to lunch – and into the heart of Cornelia (think Six Degrees of Separation), especially when he reveals a moving typewritten letter supposedly written by his mother.  Abel has his doubts, but he conveniently has to go back to his office to allow this ridiculous plot to advance….
Scott also tries to charm Juilliard student, Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), who comes to check out Cornelia’s player piano in the hopes that she’ll donate it to the school. Before you know it, Scott has Cornelia tripping the light fantastic around the living room (nicely appointed by Set Designer Michael Yeargan) to the tunes of Cole Porter.

Is the opportunist really Cornelia’s grandson? Will he get her to part with some of her fortune to set him up in life? Is there a finished play in here somewhere? I won’t give spoilers, but the answer to that last question is “no.”

There is no rhyme or reason for any of the plot. Jessica sings a whole song with the player piano prompting uneasy applause from the audience – we’re not really sure why she just did that. Cornelia has been rich for a long time. What is the trigger for her sudden desire to get rid of everything? Why is she so accepting of the shady Scott with his outrageous and a story that can't be proved? Why doesn’t Abel just throw him out? And would this rich WASP from an older generation really be that OK with the prospect of having an African-American grandson? We'd like to think so, but it stretches belief.

The whole thing is totally unbelievable and the script has the feel of a draft with some good ideas that just haven’t been threshed out. There are a few Connecticut references that are fun for us who call it home and some moments that trigger memories of other plays, but the 75-minute story never comes together.

This doesn’t mean, however, that everything is bad. Lamos pours himself into what he has to work with – good performers. He casts well and gets full-bodied characterizations. Anderman is very strong as the aging, lonely woman who wants to leave some sort of legacy. We get the loss she has experienced following the deaths of her children and the frustration she feels with her grandchildren’s lack of direction in life.

Paulik is affable as the uptight, yet caring attorney (even if Gurney gives us no explanation for his sudden change of heart where Scott is concerned). Brown exudes charm as well as a creepy quality that keeps us distrusting Scott. Kim conveys a wisdom as her character resists Scott’s charisma.

Getting the most laughs is Pamela Dunlap as Cornelia’s maid of 30 years, Agnes Munger. I haven’t mentioned her before because, except for arriving on the stage to get laughs with some plain speaking, she doesn’t really have anything to do with what little plot there is.

If the Westport run really was really just a preview in preparation for New York, I wish the time had been used to improve the script, which could have been funny and insightful. Guess I will just have to wait and enjoy Sylvia in October.

Love and Money runs through Oct. 4 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, Signature Center, 480 West 42nd St., NYC. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 2 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 and 7:30 pm; Wednesday at 2 pmTickets $25 - $55: 212-244-7529; http://www.signaturetheatre.org.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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