The boilerplate summary of A. R. Gurney’s latest, Love and Money, goes thus: “Determined to donate almost everything she owns before her life of grace and privilege ends, wealthy widow Cornelia Cunningham’s (Maureen Anderman) plan hits a snag when an ambitious and ingratiating young man, Walker Williams (Gabriel Brown), arrives to claim his alleged inheritance.” The young man, an African American, is presumably the love child of an illicit romance between his father and Cornelia’s deceased daughter. A likewise young lawyer, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), assigned by Cornelia’s firm to oversee the transactions and protect her, has his antenna up right away, and seeks to expose what he’s sure is a fraud.
The play does not represent the gifted Mr. Gurney at his best. The writing and characterization are polished and thorough, but there is something emotionally hollow at the core, because you can fairly smell the typing; the cleverness of the dialogue never finds the sweet spot that also lets you hear it as occurring naturally; nor does it help that the beats of the play’s developing, slender story feel manipulated.
Additionally there’s the playing style, which is kind of oldschool and generic, a bit too heightened, a bit too pat, like what you might expect of a professional stock company. You’re never allowed to completely lose yourself in the illusion and forget you’re watching actors at work. I can’t say this surprised me—in my limited experience of director Mark Lamos’s work, this seems to be his imprimatur—but because I know him to be a smart and witty fellow (from some brief professional contact in the mid ‘80s; none since)—I keep hoping he’ll be able to break through to that extra little touch that moves focused coherency to believable humanity. I believe I saw it once, when he directed Our Country’s Good by Timberlake Wertenbaker. Not since. I wonder if a play has to contain some kind of internal insistence to bring that out of him.
If so, Love and Money is certainly not that vehicle. Mr. Lamos plays into Mr. Gurney’s contrivances rather than mitigating them; and while both men are expert enough to make sure your attention is held for all 75 intermissionless minutes…there isn’t one of those 75 in which I believed a word of it.
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