Susan Granger’s review of “Love and Money” (Pershing Square Signature Center)
After three weeks of previews in Connecticut at the Westport Country Playhouse, A.R. Gurney opened his latest play at Off-Broadway’s Signature Center, where he’s the distinguished playwright-in-residence for the 2014-15 season.
Set in the library of a posh Upper East Side townhouse, the surprisingly trivial story revolves around elderly Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman), who is determined to sell or donate everything she owns before moving to a retirement home. Her two grown children have died, and she’s decided that wealth is a “curse.” Which is why she wants to give it all away.
Her attorney, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), advises her to re-think her Will when, suddenly, Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown) claims to be her long-lost grandson after a Buffalo newspaper article reveals Cornelia’s charitable intentions. His doubts are echoed by is Cornelia’s Irish maid of 30 years, Agnes Munger (Pamela Dunlap), who dutifully supplies soup and sandwiches.
Walter is a callow, obviously ambitious African-American who claims to have a letter, supposedly written by his mother, Cornelia’s daughter who died of cancer. Then there’s a sassy Julliard student, Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), who’s hoping to acquire Cornelia’s player piano for her school. For a brief interlude, Cole Porter’s music reigns supreme.
But then it’s back to wealthy Cornelia’s dilemma. Is Walter really her grandson or just a clever opportunist? How will this eccentric, melancholy matron handle his outrageous demands?
Although A.R. Gurney’s humorous plays (“The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour”) are astute observations, set in the WASP world of wealth and privilege, unfortunately, this simplistic plot isn’t really plausible, given the circumstances.
But perhaps that lack of focus and credibility can be forgiven in lieu of director Mark Lamos’ astute choice of the strong ensemble cast, headed by Maureen Anderman, who effectively embodies the genteel, altruistic widow.
Another plus is Michael Yeargan’s sumptuous scenic design with tags hanging from the antique furniture, rare books and expensive art work, indicating their future destination.
“Love and Money” runs through October 4 at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, Signature Center on 42nd Street…for tickets and more information, go to http://www.signaturetheatre,org.