In this week’s Wall Street Journal drama column, I report from New York on the premiere of A.R. Gurney’s latest play, Crazy Mary, then look back to the last of the shows I saw during my recent swing through the Northeast, the Studio Theatre’s revival of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in Washington, D.C.:
Comparisons between playwrights and novelists are almost always misleading, but I’d say it’s more or less accurate to think of A.R. Gurney as the John P. Marquand of American drama. Like Marquand, Mr. Gurney writes about WASPs and their discontents, and his ruefully funny studies of a ruling class in decline are too often dismissed as trivial by critics who take no interest in the inner lives of the insufficiently underprivileged. Also like Marquand, he is prolific to a fault, and his work is as unevenly inspired as it is unfailingly professional. I’ve reviewed several of his plays in this space, always with pleasure–I like his best work very much–but rarely with outright enthusiasm. Thus I’m glad to report that “Crazy Mary,” Mr. Gurney’s new portrait of life among the white-bread set, is a highly impressive piece of work, a serious comedy that succeeds in wringing honest laughs out of an awkward subject.
The Mary in question is a middle-aged manic depressive (Kristine Nielsen) who has spent the past three decades stashed away in a high-priced Boston sanitarium to which her late father consigned her after she made the fatal mistake of sleeping with the gardener. In addition to being crazy, Mary is loaded–she inherited all her father’s money–and when Lydia (Sigourney Weaver), Mary’s second cousin once removed, becomes her legal guardian after a death in the family…well, you figure it out, if you can. Every twist in the plot of “Crazy Mary” took me by surprise, and none of them disappointed me in the slightest….
I’m spending the first part of the summer checking out regional productions of the plays of Tom Stoppard, whose “The Coast of Utopia” took New York by storm this past season. My most recent trip was to the Studio Theatre, which is putting on “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead” as its contribution to “Shakespeare in Washington,” the city-wide, season-long celebration of the Bard currently underway in the nation’s capital. I’ve been hearing good things about the Studio Theatre for the past couple of years, and this revival confirmed them all. It’s the best “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern” I’ve ever seen on stage….
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