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Off Broadway

He Says: The Review Keen Company’s Later Life

He Says: The Review Keen Company’s Later Life
Interruptions. Interruptions. That’s the thing that keeps happening in A. R. Gurney’s Later Life, now being revived by the Keen Company at Theatre Row. One after the other, but it all starts with a setting of the stage by Sally, the lovely and pushy host of a friendly gathering in a charming apartment overlooking Boston Harbor.  Played by Jodie Markell (Public’s Machinal), in the first of many characters she plays throughout this well-crafted 90 minute one-act play, she lights a candle and shifts a few chairs on an expansive well-appointed terrace, designed with grace by Steven Kemp (Keen’s tick, tick… BOOM!), and lit with numerous stars above by David Lander (2ST’s Torch Song), and then, she states, “That’s all I can do. Just set the stage.
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After the re-arranging, we see what she has in mind.  She’s playing match-maker, planning a romantic introduction of two of her guests, the way things used to play out in the pre-social media/dating app world when people were introduced by friends with a hope that they would spark up colorful and engaging conversation. She’s hoping these two, in the later years of their post-divorced life, will find that elusive chemistry within  each other to re-enter the world of love and romance. She draws out Austin, played with a solid and polite fortitude by the square-jawed Laurence Lau (LCT’s Dada Woof Papa Hot), who is the perfect example of ‘the successful good guy’ who most ladies would like their friends to marry (but maybe not themselves).  Polite and quietly engaging, Lau infusing Austin with a sweet kindness that is almost dull and dis-engaging. But Ruth, played with a witty sharpness and a slightly off-putting delivery by Barbara Garrick (Broadway’s Eastern Standard), the woman ushered out by Sally, is not going to be swayed by bland politeness.  She’s going to poke and playfully whittle some aliveness out of this pleasant man, because she remembers him from many years ago, before either of their marriages, and knows a little about what might lie beneath his carefully orchestrated civility. You see, these two had met before, when he was a young man in the Navy and she was a happy-go-lucky young lady on vacation in Capri.  They were instantly smitten on that Italian island, and even kissed, but Austin retreated, out of a vocalized feeling of impending possible doom, leaving Ruth to pine over the ships that had just passed in the night, when all she really wanted to do was jump onboard. As directed by Jonathan Silverstein (Keen’s Lonely Planet) their talk that night, reconnecting after both have lived their adult life under very different winds, is a smooth sail through lovely calm waters; charming, engaging, and somewhat electric, keeping us all guessing and engrossed within Gurney’s smart back and forth. Their chemistry is mild when all are hoping for more. They never really reach up and beyond to the ‘hot Italian summer night air’ filled with passion and fireworks. It’s pleasant enough though like a stroll along an old pretty street on Capri, and we like them both, hoping for that leap into the great Mediterranean blue-grotto’d abyss where love and romance might await them.
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Barbara Garrick, Laurence Lau, Jodie Markell, Liam Craig. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Maybe because they keep getting interrupted. Time and time again. By a wide range of other guests at what must be the most eclectic dinner party in town.  All played by Markell and Liam Craig (TFANA’s The Killer), with different wigs and costumes (Costumes: Jennifer Paar; Wig & Hair: Dave Bova & J. Jared Janas) thrown on one after the other.  It must be a dizzying affair backstage, but onstage most of these characters, from the self-hating smoker, to a hungry and talkative lesbian, and a story-seeking couple who just moved to Boston from Texas, fail to fully resonate.  Most feel like extreme accents laid on top of playful cartoon characters all showing these two reacquainted souls how daring action and embracing change must be part of the game of life.
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Liam Craig, Jodie Markell, Laurence Lau. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
For both of these actors though, only one interrupting persona encapsulates something real and true.  Markell’s host, Sally feels genuine and unique, authentic in her concern and desire for her two friends to find some shelter in each other, while Craig’s portrayal of Austin’s best friend carries the same beautiful edge, hoping that his buddy bravely steps over the edge and re-engages in the world.  Not that Austin is a lost case, but he is a man, so afraid of the possible, that he stays neatly in the calm waters of the easy and clear.  Ruth on the other hand, lives life with a spirited outlook of ‘let’s give it a shot, and see’, maybe to her detriment.  We can’t help but to join with Ruth as we watch her attempt to lure Austin over the edge with her, but then a final interruption occurs, a phone call comes in from her ex-husband, a slightly dangerous ‘Marlboro Man‘ back in Vegas, with an edge that makes us all want to tell her ‘no’. But she doesn’t appear to want to listen to the storm clouds brewing. Gurney will let us know which way the wind will blow in due time, but he also wants to lead us towards the main question of the night; ‘What will Austin do about it all?’
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Barbara Garrick, Jodie Markell, Liam Craig. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
When you die, you’ll probably say, ‘Excuse me.’ ” is said to Austin at one point, and although that must sting a bit below his genteel exterior, we don’t see much of a response beyond a mild-mannered intake of air. This slightly sad tale was meant to be enlivened by the variety of others and the choices they are attempting to make in their lives, hoping to passively influence a desire for engagement in these two divorced souls, but does it work in the end? It’s an almost annoyingly polite gathering, with two souls attempting to connect out on the terrace, and all the world trying to get in the way, or maybe push them closer together. It feels somewhat trivial, this party, although well constructed, and the air is heavy with possibility, but in the end, Later Life leaves us with a big question mark stamped on our and Austin’s furrowed brow.  What will happen? This well written piece, full of civil and witty dialogue, crowded with too many chatty, eccentric, and slightly over-done guests, with some bland food and generic white wine to ingest, just made me want to slowly make my way out the door of this party smiling politely saying ‘thank you, and good night’, having had a generally nice time and enjoyed the view, but looking forward to getting home and climbing into my nice warm bed, all alone.
For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

Off Broadway
@#frontmezzjunkies

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my last...so far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to frontmezzjunkies.com

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