Matthew Browning, Erika Wardlow, & Michael McCollum in Black Tie
Photo-Little Colonel Playhouse
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Dave Pilkington
Review by Keith Waits
Entire contents copyright © 2014 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.
I recently saw a quote about how theatre should not be about describing a fire but making the audience feel that fire onstage. It provides a handy image to describe the difficulty with some community theatre productions.
A good case in point is the current production of Black Tie at Little Colonel Playhouse. A.R. Gurney’s script, although praised for its examination of generational father-son connections, is flawed, but, more to the point, the script is played here with such earnestness that the more expansive themes are left largely unexploited.
As Curtis (Michael McCollum) prepares for his son’s rehearsal dinner, he is visited by his deceased father (Allen Schuler). Whether a ghost or a figment of Curtis’ imagination is never explained, but he offers patrician advice from a bygone age when tuxedos were “evening clothes” and people “drank to be sociable”. He intends to wear, despite a lack of support from family members, his father’s evening clothes, and the connection to the previous generation’s values is what is most on the mind of the playwright. Depicting a family member from beyond the grave as a meaningful, influential presence in our imaginations is a potent, if not original idea, that resonates perhaps more than most will want to admit. An adroit use of this device is the strength of the play, and whenever Curtis and his Father share a scene, there is something interesting happening onstage.
Otherwise the play is a routine wedding-disaster comedy: family conflicts, unexpected guests, including the bride-to-be’s eccentric ex-husband, and Gurney at least keeps these mundane incidents offstage and the focus stays on the dynamic within Curtis’ family. His wife Mimi (Erika Wardlow), daughter Elsie (Meghan Logue), and son/groom-to-be Teddy (Matthew Browning) all communicate some level of conflict with the values and example of Curtis and his father. Watching Curtis gradually relinquish his resolve to inject paternal tradition into the evening and move further away from that example is the heart of the play, and I expect we are supposed to feel melancholy and some measure of grief.
But this straightforward, shallow reading of the text settles for surface laughs when it should probe. Black Tie is a minor work from the author of The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour, and Sylvia, and it only overcomes its limitations if the text is explicated with great delicacy. Gurney appears to be offering an examination of the fading of Anglo-Saxon attitudes toward traditions that no longer have purchase in modern America. Despite the honest good effort of the director and cast, there is, unfortunately, no such discovery to be found here.
October 3, 4, 9, 10, 11, 2014 @ 8:00pm
October 5, 12, 2014 @ 2:00pm
Adult tickets are $15; Senior Citizen (60+) and Student tickets are $12, cash or check only. www.littlecolonel.org
Little Colonel Playhouse
302 Mt. Mercy Drive
Pewee Valley, KY 40o56
[box_light]Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at the Louisville Visual Art Association during the days, including being one of the hosts of PUBLIC on ARTxFM, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com[/box_light]