Theater review by Jenna Scherer. Clurman Theatre. By A.R. Gurney. Dir. Jonathan Silverstein. With Peter Rini, Chris Dwan, Laura Esterman. 1hr 15mins. No intermission.
It’s unclear why Keen Company and A.R. Gurney chose to revive and revise The Old Boy, the playwright’s dull 1991 prep-school drama. You could almost sneeze from the patina of dust that’s settled on the show. With its focus on self-reflection among the privileged classes and AIDS-crisis-era homophobia, the subject matter and format are both as stagnant as the air in a headmaster’s office.
It’s the Bush ’90s, and charming, dickish politician Sam (Rini) has returned to the New England boarding school where he passed his charming, dickish youth to give a speech to the graduating class. While he’s there, he runs into Harriet (Esterman) and Alison (Marsha Dietlein Bennett), the mother and wife of his old school chum, Perry, who has died under “mysterious” circumstances. Through a series of flashbacks, we see the teenage Sam mentoring Perry (Dwan) in the ways of privileged-white-guy-ness, even as it becomes increasingly apparent that his charge isn’t into sports and babes so much as classical music and hot dudes.
Gurney’s characters speak very much like characters in a play, spouting expository information and platitudes, all while carefully hashing and rehashing the playwright’s already obvious themes. Jonathan Silverstein’s rote staging and the actors’ lethargic performances make the stakes feel even lower than they already are. The bright spot is Dwan, who, though stuck in the role of the sensitive gay cardboard cutout, brings energy and interest to the sleepy proceedings. Like all WASPs, Gurney loves interfering in other people’s lives, but he has no sting. Redemption, when it comes to these characters, feels like just another dish that’s been served to them on a silver platter.