Bring on the Lovers, Liars and Clowns



When A.R. Gurney was creating Love & Money, at what point did he realize that he was writing a new version of Six Degrees of Separation?

The thought obviously occurred to him. For near the end of his 80-minute intermissionless play now at the Signature Theatre, elegant dowager Cornelia — who could very well know Flan and Ouisa Kittredge — flat-out mentions the play in which a young, meticulous and well-spoken black man claims he’s Sidney Poitier’s son.

In this case, a similar youth who appears to have stepped out of John Guare’s acclaimed play insists to Cornelia that he’s her grandson. Cornelia can’t dismiss this out-of-hand, because her now-deceased daughter had been known to be terribly promiscuous.

Harvey Abel doubts Walker’s claim — but he’s a lawyer, so distrusting is an occupational hazard. Still, this could all be solved easily by DNA — which sends us to our programs to see if this is a period piece. Even if we don’t check, we’ll soon know, thanks to the Six Degrees reference, that the latest Love & Money could possibly take place is 1990; DNA analysis, of course, was very much on the scene by then.

Alas, Love & Money truly falls apart when Cornelia makes a snap decision that’s far too generous and doesn’t even remotely line up with Walker’s goals. What’s more, we believe after a night’s sleep she’d rescind the offer. Frankly, the morning after when Cornelia reassesses her previous pronouncement is the scene we should see.

Maureen Anderman is a wonder as Cornelia, with such style that we’re reminded that good breeding never goes out of style. She makes us see that upper-crust people need not be crusty; after a while we relax in her presence and realize we don’t have to be intimidated. Anderman is especially effective when she says she wants to give away her money to atone not for her sins, but for her wealth – which may mean that she’s expiating for a family member’s transgressions. As Balzac taught us, a great fortune begins with a great crime.

Gabriel Brown keeps us wondering if Walker is on the up-and-up.
Joe Paulik is a very funny Harvey. When the time comes for him to sing “Get out of Town” — yes, that Cole Porter song and many more are performed – he looks delightfully surprised when he hits a high note so well. And when Cornelia happens to mention her hometown, the way Paulik says “Buffalo?!” with a wince is made more hilarious when he follows it with a different wince, for he worries that he might have offended the woman for whom he works.

Are you saying “Buffalo again?” Yes, many a Gurney play references his favorite locale. Considering that the playwright has given us more than 30 plays (including Sylvia, which will soon have its Broadway debut), Gurney could be expected to repeat himself. Once again, he details the WASP propensity to drink. This is (at least) the third play in which he’s used the bridge metaphor “review the bidding” to mean “go over what we’ve been discussing.” This phrase, clever as it is, should be retired.

But Gurney should not retire. Although Love & Money is not one of his best efforts, it shows that he’s still capable of writing a play that contains wisdom, fun, wit and sharp characterization. And there’s one other thing you know you’ll always get in a Gurney play: an elegant set. Michael Yeargan doesn’t disappoint in the way that he’s appointed this room.

Walker may be an impersonator, but there’s no doubt that Casey is just that in Matthew Lopez’s The Legend of Georgia McBride, MCC’s latest offering at the Lucille Lortel Theatre.

Like so many Elvis impersonators, Casey doesn’t much look like The King. That doesn’t matter, for he’ll soon become A Queen. Because his act at a Panama City nightclub hasn’t been drawing Floridians, he’s being replaced by Tracy and Rexy – two drag queens.

As if life hadn’t already been hard enough for Casey. The rent check bounced and his wife Jo is pregnant. Up till now, he’s been assuring her that they’ll be okay, although we’re more inclined to believe Jo’s practical and doom-and-gloom-filled scenario.

When Rexy is found wanting, Casey has the chance to take his place. He’s reluctant, but there’s that baby in seven months and rent on the first of next month. He girds his loins and girdles his groin.

But he tells Jo that he’s bartending. He just knows she wouldn’t understand.

Playwrights often have a hard time making us believe that a couple is truly in love; Lopez convinces us by his strong writing in the early scenes that these two genuinely do – only to sabotage this by stating that Jo would be ready to lose the love of her life over a professional career choice. The character he created would seem to understand.

And wouldn’t Casey’s wild success as a drag queen somehow filter back to her, be it from a gas station attendant, supermarket clerk or diner waitress? Lopez instead has Jo learn the truth in the most convenient (and boring) way that a character learns information: Jo walks in at the wrong time. (Give credit to Anita Yavitch, however, for putting Casey in the most humiliating piece of accoutrement that a “real man” wouldn’t ever wear — far worse even than a bra.)

When Casey tells Jo “I did it for us,” we’re inclined to agree. Their rent checks are clearing. Yes, many women wouldn’t want their husbands involved in this unusual profession, but it’s not as if Jo came home and found Casey in her panties and in mid-hook in putting on her bra.

En route to the final moment of the 100-minute intermissionless play, Broadway aficionados will enjoy hearing one of the most poignant lines from Gypsy become an important plot point. They’ll also get a little of that show’s most famous song, as well as carefully chosen excerpts from A Chorus Line, Company, South Pacific, Hairspray as well as a maverick recording of a Sweeney Todd song that hasn’t often been heard in the last 30-or-so years.

Hair isn’t referenced, but it does come to mind. Many have alleged that Hair’s four-year-plus run was partly a response from tourists who wanted to see hippies but didn’t dare venture into Greenwich Village, where they’d feel threatened. The Hair audience wanted the Yippies and Yahoos on stage where they could keep their distance. Although Georgia McBride is playing in the Village more than forty blocks south and more than forty years later, there are those who want to see drag but don’t dare venture into a club filled with female impersonators. They can much more easily get their fill here.

Matt McGrath, who played Hedwig during the original off-Broadway run, has obviously has retained a good deal about the drag-queen lifestyle. He’s as close to the real thing as any man could ever hope to get. Although Hedwig felt trapped in a man’s body, McGrath shows that Tracy is very comfortable in his and enjoys what he does to it.

Such a flashy role securely played runs the risk of obliterating Casey, whose story this really is. Dave Thomas Brown doesn’t let that happen, and takes us from an out-of-the-question mindset to one of Hey-I’m-good-at-this. Afton C. Williamson makes us care about Jo.

Mike Donahue has splendidly staged the play. Not many directors would be able to get a laugh out of a beer can being opened, but he ensured that it received one of the biggest laughs of the night — and the night had plenty of solid non-stop yocks.

By the way, what does The Legend of Georgia McBride tell us about audiences in the Deep South? Elvis impersonators can’t draw flies, but barflies will flock to see men parading around like women? We have to wonder how many of the club’s patrons are living vicariously and wish that they could have the chance that Casey gets. The play may be not be totally successful, but it may be offering one surprising truth.