By: Paulanne Simmons
If America has its own Chekhov, it would have to be A. R. Gurney. As Chekhov, in his short career as a playwright (he died of tuberculosis at 44), illuminated and elucidated the woes of landowning Russians, Gurney in his long career (the playwright died last June at 86), has chronicled the trials and tribulations of that native American species, the WASP. And so it is with Gurney’s 1993 comedy-drama, Later Life, now at the Clurman Theatre in a Keen Company revival directed by Jonathan Silverstein.
The play is set on the terrace of an apartment in a high-rise building overlooking Boston Harbor. In the offstage apartment, a group of Brahmins have gathered for that sacred WASP tradition: the cocktail party. Our hero, Austin (the genial and buttoned-up Laurence Lau), a divorced middle-aged man, has been invited to the party by his friend, Sally (Jodie Markell) who wants hims to meet Ruth (Barbara Garrick), an attractive and perhaps eligible woman his own age.
Turns out Austin actually met Ruth when he was in the Navy, 30 years ago in Capri, and although they were mutually attracted, Austin did not pursue a relationship because he believed “something” terrible lay in his future.
Did that something terrible happen? Well, Austin has certainly been fortunate in business, but, despite his wealth, Austin is on Prozac, which works sometimes, but sometimes doesn’t. As for Ruth, her life has not been a bed or roses either. In a searing confession, Garrick let’s us know she has lost one child to leukemia and several husbands to misfortune. Her current husband, who beats her occasionally and takes her money constantly, has an inexplicable hold on her (she’s divorced and remarried the man).
Perhaps terrible things happen to all of us.
While Ruth and Austin are trying to figure out where to take their relationship, a number of other people (played to perfection by Liam Craig, and Markell in a variety of roles) come wandering onto the terrace. They include a couple that has moved from the South up to Boston, where they have found a new life; an inveterate smoker who every day thinks he is about to quit; and a wry, older lesbian looking to hook up.
Will the couple remain happy in Boston? Will the smoker ever quit? Will the lesbian find love and happiness? We can’t be sure, but Gurney does not seem hopeful.
Later Life runs through April 14 at Theatre Row’s Clurman Theatre, 412 West 42 Street, http://www.keencompany.org/later-life/.