A.R. Gurney bridges the generation gap in his 1974 WASP comedy.
Tue Nov 1 2011
Photograph: Stephen Kunken
Time Out Ratings :<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5
Summer leisure for the well-bred WASPs in A.R. Gurney's Children includes tennis, swimming, and bouts of resentment and denial. It's Fourth of July weekend 1970, and for the first time in five years, a dignified matriarch (Darrie Lawrence) will have all three of her children at the family's seaside summer home in Massachusetts. But change is in the salty air as Mother announces to divorced daughter Barbara (Margaret Nichols) and boarding-school teacher son Randy (Richard Thieriot) that come fall, they and their younger, stormier brother, Pokey (an offstage presence), will inherit the house when she weds a recently widowed family friend.
Like the house's eroded rose garden, the gentile if stifling world these characters know is slowly disappearing—hardly news to audiences in 2011, but their frustration and confusion in this 1974 play (inspired by a John Cheever story) carries over. Gurney charts all this with compassion and bemusement, never begrudging his characters their privilege, but neither entitling them to it. Humor arises as they try to reconfigure their views to match the changing times. Pokey's hippyish wife (also unseen) incites ire and envy by not wearing a bra and serving her kids Coke with meals. The horror of it all!
Scott Alan Evans, coartistic director of TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, revives this early Gurney morsel with effortless clarity (and smartly condenses the two-acter into one). His four-person cast, which also includes Lynn Wright as Randy's discontented wife, lets the right amount of unguarded emotion poke through their cool exteriors, enabling their subtle transformations to become tender ones. Gurney may be considered the WASP playwright, but you don't have to summer on the Vineyard to feel these characters' stings.