Saturday, March 23, 2002

The Waverly Gallery (Cleveland Play House)

Play House's 'THE WAVERLY GALLERY' meaningful, but misses the mark

It is sad indeed to watch those around us get old and lose their sense of dignity and purpose. The question facing many, in the era of the longer life spans, is how to deal with those who lose their memories and physical strength, becoming shadows of their former selves. This, basically, is the situation explored by Kenneth Lonergan in his memory play, 'THE WAVERLY GALLERY.'

Gladys Green, a former lawyer, activist and small art gallery owner has come to the stage of her life when her faculties are abandoning her. She runs a small art gallery in Greenwich Village and lives in a near-by building also inhabited by her grandson Daniel. We watch as her family struggles to find the balance between allowing Gladys to maintain her dignity and keeping their own lives in balance.

Lonergan’s script is lacking. The writing doesn’t clearly separate the pathos from the humor. Audience members giggled at what seemed inappropriate moments causing discomfort for those around them. What is funny about seeing a once vital person become lost in a sea of confusion? Should we laugh or cry? Lonergan often gives us no help. Shouldn’t we expect that the elderly woman’s daughter and son-in law who are both psychiatrists to be better be able to handle their loved one’s demise? Problems can overwhelm, but shouldn’t we expect these experts to have more understanding?

Peter Hackett’s direction gives us little help. The actors come out shouting and the decibel level continues throughout. There is little real empathy, just over-wrought frustration and yelling. Even Daniel, the supposedly compassionate grandson, is forced into what would appear to be uncharacteristic rage.

It’s worth seeing the production to experience the acting wonders of long-time television performer Ann Guilbert. Guilbert, who portrayed Millie on 'THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW' and Grandma Yetta in 'THE NANNY,' gives understanding to the role as we watch her fall deeper and deeper into the chasm of chaos. Andrew Katz, as her grandson, has many wonderful moments. The script and the direction fail him at times causing the character to portray seemingly uncharacteristic acts. Darrie Lawrence and Mike Hartman as the daughter and son-in-law spend too much time yelling and fretting. Is this the fault of the writing or the directing? Gregory Northrop portrays a painter whose presence is irrelevant to the story line.

Capsule judgement: 'THE WAVERLY GALLERY' is disappointing. In this age when the topic of aging is so important, a meaningful, well performed play could have been a gift. As is, it’s an opportunity to see a wonderful performance in a less than pleasing production.