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This article by Joan Crespi

was prepared for the March 20, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Review: Gurney at Westwind

Lighting up the stage at the Hun School is Westwind

Repertory Company’s production of A.R. Gurney’s two one-act comedies,

"Darlene" and "The Guest Lecturer," directed by Kay

Schwinn Potuchek. This comes after the company has been dark for six

months. The show is approaching its third and final weekend, with

remaining performances Friday and Saturday, March 22 and 23, at 8

p.m. So hurry.

Gurney, known as the master of domestic drama, writes about middle

or upper middle class WASPs. His popular plays include "The Dining

Room," "The Cocktail Hour," "Love Letters," and

"Sylvia" about an outspoken, affectionate dog. Unusual, yes,

but still more or less conventional.

If "Darlene" and "The Guest Lecturer" have a common

theme, it’s sex. But while "The Guest Lecturer" takes off

— it is only framed by sex — sex, or the lack of, is the main

plot line of "Darlene."

"Darlene" is an effective curtain raiser. (Although in this

case there is no curtain.) It takes place in the suburban home of

Angela (Barbara Hatch) and Jim (N. Charles Leeder). Angela has been

supermarket shopping and comes home with a letter addressed to

"Darlene"

that she has found stuck under the windshield wiper of her car, a

blue Voyager. Mistaken car? Alone, reading the letter, she stretches

out sensuously on a table. Enough said. Her husband comes home, seizes

the letter, and calls it pornographic. The play explores possibilities

about the sexy letter’s source and portent.

Throughout Angela’s body language exudes sexuality, fairly shouting

her needs, and her voice is breathy or high and feminine. Her dense

if well-meaning husband misses her many hints. Both roles are well

played, but the plot idea is slight. Only at the end does its quick,

touching reversal reach out to grab you.

There are some witty lines (this is Gurney) but it’s still a one-joke

play. Angela’s body language is a constant, whatever the lines. The

only weight to the play comes with the couple’s toast to "the

dangerous years" when the children will be gone and the dog is

dead. "We’re all spreading out. We’re all in these different

orbits

shouting to each other across distances," Angela observes

ruefully.

Still, even with its portrayal of a hollowness at the center of a

suburban, middle-aged marriage, the play does not catch fire until

a final phone call and the quick, blackout ending. No hurry here.

"The Guest Lecturer" is, literally, another story (although

"Darlene" makes mention of a guest lecturer). The play blows

the lid off conventional theater. It is ingenious, satirical, witty,

and funny; it is high and low comedy at once. You’ve probably never

seen anything like it. Call it off-the-wall, over-the top, certainly

for those who know anything about the history of the theater and some

early religious practice. For those who don’t, it is self-explanatory.

The play might have been written with laughing gas: it’s wildly funny,

and Westwind’s actors do it justice.

Kurt Penney, playing Hartley, the guest lecturer, is

perfect in the role, moving from a relaxed, natural appearance, to

comedic horror. Guest Hartley thinks he has come to talk about

"Drama

in America." Instead he’s to be it. (See the show and you’ll

understand.)

The play satirizes actors, exit lines, patriotic utterances, theater

boards, subscribers, environmental correctness, today’s talk about

community, Aristotelian catharsis, show music, and yes, sex. To say

it is staged is incorrect: it encompasses the entire auditorium.

"The Guest Lecturer" features both actors from

"Darlene."

N. Charles Leeder, the ordinary husband who just doesn’t get it in

the curtain-raiser, is now wonderfully comic as the pompous,

flamboyant,

swaggering, floridly-clad board member Fred, in "The Guest

Lecturer."

Barbara Hatch who plays the sex-starved wife in "Darlene,"

is now Mona, another sexpot — only here she gets her way. (By

whom? It’s part of the plot.)

Another addition is K.T. Benincasa who provides the wonderfully awful

piano music that serves to underline the script’s comic lines.

Director Potuchek paces the play just right. And her blocking,

particularly

for Fred and Hartley’s nimble chase over tables, fencing with chairs,

adds to the fun.

While Westwind is a professional company thatrents theater space from

Hun School, students are free to come in and work on the productions,

says Julia Ohm, Westwind’s producing director and a founder. Two Hun

students are on this production: Nadja Oertelt, who provided the

publicity

photos (see above) and stage manager Michele Clute.

So run (or drive) to the Hun School theater (turn in on Edgerstoune,

then follow Russell Road around to the low building with lights).

See "The Guest Lecturer" and, to borrow from Professor

Hartley’s

sage advice (uttered in quite another context), "You can save

money on Prozac."

— Joan Crespi

A.R. Gurney One-Acts, Westwind Repertory, Hun

School,

Edgerstoune Road, 609-397-7331. $12. Friday and Saturday, March

22 and 23, 8 p.m.


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