Off-Broadstreet Theater’s choice for its 243rd production is A. R. Gurney’s “Family Furniture.” The sixth Gurney play that OBT has presented, this production makes clear why the playwright is a favorite.
Gurney has 30 plays to his credit as well as an opera libretto and a handful of novels, and “Family Furniture is one of his newest, having premiered in New York in November, 2013. Yet the work’s approach is traditional and its locale and era are elsewhere.
The slice-of-life work looks back over the course of the summer of 1951 at a summer home on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie, not far from Buffalo, where the characters live. The father, Russell, is a member of the Buffalo business elite. His wife, Claire, keeps busy working with various good causes. The three young people are students at elite colleges. Nick, the son, is at Williams; Peggy, the daughter, is at Vassar; and Betsy, Nick’s girlfriend, is at Bennington.
This is a privileged world, and Gurney is an expert at giving the audience an inside view of it. Here characters arrive home from the office and express the need to get out of a suit and into a dry martini, and where people are differentiated by those with whom one does business and those with whom one plays tennis and golf.
While the structure of “Family Furniture” is determined by its seasonal time frame rather than some dramatic urgency, the play creates interest through in the way that the characters reveal themselves and their lives. And Gurney makes sure even the most trivial dialogue is revealing.
The cast of five — with a variety of range and experience — offer convincing performances. Kate Tenenbaum (performing the role of Betsy) is working on a BFA in musical theater at Rider University, as is Pat Constant (Nick), and both also happen to be students of OBT co-producer Julie Thick. Another musical theater major at Rider is Sarah Whiteford (Peggy), recently seen at OBT as Meg in “Little Women.” Janet Gray (Claire) was seen at OBT in “Murder by the Book” and appeared at the Bucks County Playhouse and in New York City. And Steve Lobis (Russell) has been in several OBT productions, most recently “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”
However, I must pass on the complaint that some dialogue was lost for some of the audience because not all the younger actors had yet learned how to enunciate clearly while sounding convincingly casual, particularly at high speeds.
Bob Thick serves as both director and designer, and once again the action on stage is clear, as is the appearance of the play. The costumes were designed by Ann Raymond and seem pitch perfect for the era.
While “Family Furniture” may not be in the class of some of Gurney’s better-known works, it is fascinating and a good choice for OBT.
Family Furniture, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, March 28, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m., through March 28. Dessert is served one hour before curtain. $27 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.