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The Cocktail Hour
Reviewed by Dany Margolies for Back Stage West

 Like any WASP worth his salt, this A.R. Gurney play can be  dressed up or down and still look crisp. The self-referential  script, centering on the reaction of the playwright's family to  his autobiographic plays, reads gently and poignantly. But  director Robert O'Reilly also emphasizes the humor in the  script, making the work nearly vaudevillian-or as close to  seltzer-in-the-pants humor as WASPs can get. Gurney is known  for his conceits (Love Letters) and for his shamelessly  autobiographic plots and characters (Scenes From American  Life), and he'll get no complaints here. This beautifully shaped  play is taken on a smooth ride, the foreshadowing kept subtle  by the direction, the merely conversational lines turned into  repartee.

Detracting from this production, however, is the odd casting  choice for the playwright's father. Considering the size of the  talent pool from which to draw a decent actor in the 60- to  70-year-old range, that this production uses a much younger  man provides a puzzle that distracts for much of the play. It  also leaves actor Chip Heller stooping, shuffling, and clearing  phlegm from his throat, and more's the pity because Heller has  a rich voice and keen timing, he plays obliviousness with  purpose, and his character's growth is gentle and believable.

David Carey Foster portrays the playwright, John, as a man  with this, and other, stories simmering under his surface. He  shows fine attention to detail, his fingertips lingering on the  hot-potato script John has brought home to show the family,  then similarly lingering on the bottle of Cutty Sark that John  won't indulge in-yet. As the playwright's mother, Sandra  Kinder makes a wry WASP, her vocal cadences dancing a jig,  smirking proudly when she admits it is usually the wife who  strays in the plays she has seen, accenting her remarks with a  lacy white hankie that never leaves her left hand. While  adorably comedic where appropriate, Kinder is also more than  convincing when her character admits to John he was lost in  the shuffle of her life-she's appropriately dismissive because  she is embarrassed by her neglect of him. Ruth Crawford  brings humor to John's sister, the self-styled neglected child.  Crawford brings a laugh to lines not particularly funny in the  script; but when she is not called upon to clown, her lines  sound improvised, and at moments the sibling relationship  seems palpable.

Under David Flad's genteel lighting, the actors spend a cozy  evening in costumer Laura Dwan's tweeds, cashmeres, and  tasseled loafers. And, as nearly a character all its own that  attracts the interest of the keen-eyed (and hungry), the  long-anticipated cheese platter finally arrives in the form of a  small plate bearing a few tiny cubes of hard cheese.

Copyright 2000 Back Stage and BPI Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
Reprinted by permission
The Cocktail Hour at the Colony Theatre