By: David Sheward
A.R. Gurney is one of our most prolific playwrights. From the 1970s until now, in over 50 shows including The Dining Room, Love Letters, The Perfect Party and The Cocktail Hour, he has compassionately and humorously chronicled the diminishing fortunes, both financial and psychological, of the WASP upper class as the American population becomes a majority of minorities. This season alone will see several productions of his works including the 1995 Sylvia opening on Broadway next month and the new Love & Money now at Signature Theatre Company.
This slight piece incorporates several of his favorite themes: the corrupting influence of wealth, the encroachment of the lower class on the privileged, his love of Cole Porter-referred to as the poet of the upper crust, the disappearance of grace and class in our culture, and the theater as the last hope of saving these qualities. But he fails to say anything new about these elements or replay his familiar complaints in a fresh and arresting way.
Not only is Gurney repeating himself, but he’s borrowing from others. The main thrust of the plot is a direct lift from John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation (he even acknowledges this in the dialogue) with an African-American con man attempting to charm his way into the good graces and sizable purse of his white hostess. But the author gives that true-life based story a less cynical twist.
Mega-rich dowager Cornelia Cunningham is about to donate all of her money and property to various charities. She feels guilty over the robber-baron tactics her late husband used to acquire their fortune and how said filthy lucre contributed to the early deaths of both her children. She is leaving just enough to live on in a retirement home and for her two ne’er-do-well grandchildren not to starve. Just as she is about to sign the papers finalizing her plans, an unknown third grandchild appears on the horizon and guess what, he’s downstairs and-surprise-he’s black.
There’s very little tension or suspense since the interloper’s story is obviously fake and all is happily resolved very quickly. Gurney delivers a few pointed observations on class divisions, but he’s made them all before in the plays cited earlier. Even at 80 minutes, Love and Money feels padded with several Porter songs inserted for the flimsiest of excuses. (Cornelia has a player piano she wants to donate to the Juilliard School, allowing barely motivated renditions of lovely curios like "Make It Another Old Fashioned, Please" and "Get Out of Town.")
Director Mark Lamos and his cast deliver a pleasant enough diversion. Maureen Anderman adds spice to the too-saintly Cornelia. Joe Paulik provides much needed push-back as her contrary young lawyer. Gabriel Brown is attractive and energetic as the con man, but he fails to compensate for the character’s arrogance with the necessary charisma. It’s difficult to believe he would enchant the generous but intelligent Cornelia. As the Juilliard student, Kahyun Kim has a lovely voice, but there’s not much she can do with such a nothing role. She’s basically there to sing. As Agnes, the no-nonsense Irish housekeeper, Pamela Dunlap gives lessons on how to enliven a tiny part. She makes every one of her lines count with sharp delivery and pointed intention. A play by Gurney about Agnes might have been more interesting. At least it would have been different.
Love & Money **
Aug. 24-Oct. 4. Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St., NYC. Tue.-Fri., 7:30 p.m.; Sat., 8 p.m.; Wed., Sat., Sun., 2 p.m. Running time: 80 mins. with no intermission. $25. (212) 244-7529 or www.signaturetheatre.org.
Originally Published on September 12, 2015 in ArtsinNY.com
Photos: Joan Marcus