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Later Life

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 


Later LifeBarbara Garrick and Laurence Lau in Later Life. Photo: Carol Rosegg

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors 

Playwright and Pulitzer Prize winner, A. J. Gurney was born and raised in an upper-class Buffalo society and he knew well the often restrictive traditions and mannerisms of the WASP culture. His works reflect that stilted culture and there are aspects that he appreciated. "There was a closeness of family, a commitment to duty, to stoic responsibility, which I think we have to say weren’t entirely bad."

Now at the Clurman Theatre, The Keen Company presents Gurney's 1993 play, Later Life, a gently witty/poignant look at the society and its values that Gurney has written about his whole life. In this 25th anniversary production, he discusses a middle-aged man and woman who meet again at an upscale Boston cocktail party after 30 years. It has romantic tinges of star-crossed lovers and can't help but feel like a bittersweet reminder of missed opportunities and a chance for new beginnings.

Designed by Steven Kemp with David Lander's lighting illuminating Boston Harbor, the setting is late summer on a posh penthouse terrace, a quiet respite from the lively party going on inside. Austin (Laurence Lau), a staid Bostonian banker is standing alone, looking out at the city he calls home, his face content and his demeanor aloof when suddenly Sally, the hostess, dashes out to introduce him to another guest, Ruth (Barbara Garrick).

Ruth is a likeably off-beat guest from out of town and apparently, she had met Austin years ago. She remembers where and when although Austin does not. However, after a few casual hints, it all comes back -- they were in Capri in their 20's, free and attractive. They met, had a long talk in the moonlight, a passionate kiss, and then...nothing. Ruth had invited him to her room but Austin demurred, saying he was afraid of some "terrible thing" that was going to happen to him.

They never met again and both went on to live disparate lives. Austin married and divorced once, Ruth four times, but she always wondered about Austin and what awful thing might have happened.

Now here they are. Austin is much the same, still feeling apprehensive, lonely and depressed. Ruth's life was far less comfortable, having endured the death of a child and her habit of choosing abusive husbands. Austin cannot understand Ruth's life choices. In turn, Ruth comes to believe that the "terrible thing" that Austin foresaw for himself was actually the staid life he could not seem to consider changing.

Under the hand of director Jonathan Silverstein, Lau and Garrick both bring out the likeable qualities in their characters while stressing the "of only" aspect of Gurney's play. Austin believes that people do not change and Ruth, more spicy, realizes that she needs more in her life than waiting for a disaster that might or might not happen. Lau's portrayal of Austin shows a courteous, albeit repressed gentleman. Barbara Garrick projects Ruth's lighthearted openness, emphasized in Jennifer Paar's carefree loose dress and sandals. What a contrast to Austin, in his suit and black socks and shoes.

The various supporting players are enthusiastically played by two actors, Liam Craig and Jodie Markell in a revolving door of colorful characterizations living different lives with delightful humor. Clearly, Gurney chose the same two actors to play the various roles, aiming to indicate the variety of choices that can be made through life, and how lives can be changes.

The point is choosing the kind of life to lead, one secure and safe or just choosing to ride the ups and downs. There is still time for Austin to catch up with Ruth, but will he?

Later Life
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street.
Previews: Feb. 27, 2018. Opening: Mar. 15, 2018. Closing: Apr. 14, 2018  
Running Time: 80 minutes. No intermission
Cast: Liam Craig, Barbara Garrick, Laurence Lau, and Jodie Markell.
Genre: Drama
Written: A. J. Gurney
Directed: Jonathan Silverstein

Reviewed by Elizabeth Ahlfors
March 2018