In 1989, Greenwich Village was still the kind of place where a nice old lady like Gladys Green could own and operate an art gallery for unknown artists who never sold a painting to poor clients who never came. Play with great warmth, sensitivity and good humor by the legendary Elaine May in the Broadway production of "The Waverly Gallery" by Kenneth Lonergan, Gladys was once a practicing lawyer with many clients and a busy social life. These days, she is happy to have an occasional lost soul.
Don Bowman is one of those lost souls. Played with a sweet disorientation, if there is a certain degree of hesitation, by Michael Cera, Don is an endearing painter without talent who seems to have no idea that Gladys is a little, well, other than that. His verbal hesitation (nouns keep escaping from her) and general vagueness do not seem to register at all with him. What is recorded loud and clear is his willingness to put on a show of his work.
"I like to help young people," says Gladys. "All they want is a small opportunity, but they do not have anyone to help them." Yes, she is really good, and Don rewards her kindness with the company she craves. "All this is like a dream come true for me," she exclaims in a moving way in her opening, in which no soul appears. "I've been waiting for this day all my life."
Well, then the commotion is a bit clumsy, even under the thoughtful direction of Lila Neugebauer. But the feelings are genuine (Lonergan said he wrote the play about his elderly grandmother) and that the emotions they generate are powerful. The truth is that it is a difficult game to watch, like a game that opens with a person who is mortally ill and who chases that person to the grave. In fact, if they gave a prize to the most depressing Game of the season, this would win in a walk.
To be fair, there are moments of relief when the focus on Gladys in the gallery expands to include her daughter, Ellen Fine, played by Joan Allen (lucky!), And her second husband, Howard Fine (David Cromer, perfect match). The scenes in her apartment on Wednesday nights, the night that Gladys comes to dinner, gives the public a much needed rest by letting us know that someone is taking care of the old woman. Even his grandson, Daniel Reed (Lucas Hedges), who narrates the events directly to the audience, earns our affection due to his concern for his grandmother.
Following the path of Gladys' decline, Lonergan is also following the decline of the Villa as a very close neighborhood where people looked at each other. "The whole neighborhood is changing," Gladys continues, not realizing that she is going through the most dramatic changes of all. The changes are real, but gradual, and May is very adept at noticing the incremental losses that are slowly erasing Gladys' personality.
Every time she has the opportunity, the actress is also happy to show us that Gladys is still something ingenious. His son-in-law's insensitive observation that "it's not fun to get old" provokes the whiplash response: "Why do you always say that to me? Nobody wants to hear that! That's not useful to say." May makes a meal come out of painfully funny moments like that.
Gladys' family, which describes itself as "liberal atheist Jewish intellectuals on the Upper West Side," is even more angered by its deterioration because it offers hints of its own mortality. After consulting with his own parents, Howard is surprised: "So everything goes well with the old ones, right?", He says. "If you do not lose your marbles and one of you does not die young, they will grow old together and will torture each other to death."
This family is not without sympathy, although it seems that Daniel is moved to see how his grandmother escapes. "His mind was shattered, and the person he used to have been had not really existed for a long time," he observes. "But the pieces were still his pieces."
That is good writing, if it is difficult to listen and absorb completely in a work that guarantees that it will tear you apart, piece by piece, as Lonergan might say.
Broadway Review: & # 39; The Waverly Gallery & # 39; by Kenneth Lonergan with Lucas Hedges
Golden theater; 787 seats; $ 149 higher. Opened October 25, 2018. Revised October 19. Duration: 2 HOURS 15 MINUTES.
A presentation by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Columbia Live Stage, Eric Falkenstein, Suzanne Grant, James L. Nederlander, Universal Theatrical Group, John Gore Organization, Len Blavatnik, Peter May, Stephanie P. McClelland, Benjamin Lowy, Al Nocciolino, Patty Baker, Jamie de Roy, Wendy Federman, Barbara H. Freitag, Heni Koenigsberg, David Mirvish, True Love Productions, executive producers Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner and John Johnson of a two-act play by Kenneth Lonergan.
Directed by Lila Neugebauer. Sets, David Zinn; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound, Leon Rothenberg; projections, such yarden; Production Director, Charles Means.
Elaine May, Lucas Hedges, Joan Allen, Michael Cera, David Cromer.