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When a prolific artist dies, it takes time to sort through his output and decide what—if anything—is likely to last. That’s happening right now to the four dozen plays of A.R. Gurney, the bard of the upper-middle-class WASP, who died in June at the age of 86. “The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour,” “Love Letters” and “Sylvia” continue to hold the stage and assure him of a place in the history of postwar American theater. And what of the others? Many, like “Black Tie” and “Indian Blood,” are little more than high-class comfort food for country-club Republicans. But Mr. Gurney was no four-hit wonder, and the Keen Company’s off-Broadway revival of “Later Life,” first produced by Playwrights Horizons in 1993 but rarely seen since then, is a welcome reminder that there are glittering gems lurking amid the paste.
According to Mr. Gurney, “Later Life” is “indebted to Henry James.” In fact, it starts out as a comic variation on “The Beast in the Jungle,” one of James’ most disturbingly melancholy tales. The protagonist, Austin (Laurence Lau), is an affable Boston divorcé of a certain age who has been haunted his whole life long by the certitude that “something terrible” is destined to happen to him. He goes to a cocktail party and meets Ruth (Barbara Garrick), a divorcée of like vintage who claims to have met him years ago. They start to reminisce, interrupted at frequent intervals by the other guests, all of them variously eccentric (and all played with great variety and flair by the same two actors, Liam Craig and Jodie Markell). In between, they strike romantic sparks—until an unexpected occurrence throws them off course…
Unflashy conversation pieces like “Later Life” don’t play themselves. They must be knowingly cast and intelligently directed to make their full effect, and Keen Company, here as always, is up to the challenge….
“Frozen,” the Disneyfied version of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” has now been turned into a stage musical and brought to Broadway. It’s unlikely that anything else I say about “Frozen: The Broadway Musical” (to give the show its full official title) will sway those parents who already plan to take their children to see it, so I’ll be brief: If you liked “Frozen” on screen, you’ll like it onstage. Michael Grandage’s fantastically elaborate production, choreographed by Rob Ashford and designed to the hilt and beyond by Christopher Oram, is faithful to the spirit, if not always the letter, of the movie.
For my part, I found both to be well-made but insipid and largely humorless, though the stage version is more tedious….
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To read my complete review of Later Life, go here.
To read my complete review of Frozen, go here.