Broadway Review - The Waverly Gallery

Broadway Review - The Waverly Gallery

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The Waverly Gallery, by Oscar winning writer Kenneth Lonegran originally premiered off-Broadway at the Promenade Theater in 2000. In that production, late great Oscar winner Eileen Heckert played octogenarian Gladys Green. The Broadway production, which opened up earlier this year, actually stars the great Elaine May, who is 86 years young.  May’s career has lasted a staggering 7 decades, with her first professional job in the business happening in the 1950’s.  An actress, comedian, writer and director May first came to fame as part of the comedy duo of Nichols and May with the late EGOT winner, Mike Nichols. The current Broadway production also features in its cast Joan Allen (Tony Winner), Lucas Hedges (Oscar Nominee), Michael Cera and David Cromer.

The play takes place during a period between 1989 and 1991 in the waning days of the Gladys’s operation of her small, art gallery on Waverly Place in Greenwich Village, NYC, when Gladys begins to first experience dementia and follows her quick and sad descent. Much of the story is seen through the eyes of Gladys’ loving grandson Daniel Reed (Hedges) who sometimes serves as a narrator within the play. The play is based on autobiographical events and Daniel symbolizes the author as a young man. Allen plays Daniel’s mother, Gladys’ daughter and Cromer plays Daniel’s step-father.  Cera, who is quite good actually, plays a somewhat deluded, lost artist (Don Bowman – Tony Winner)) who happens to stumble in the gallery with some of his paintings. He’s a bit desperate and Gladys, barely holding it together at this point, is desperate as well, so Bowman becomes her last featured artist.

The play is the intimate, overwhelming, sometimes suffocating drama that unfolds when a loved one starts to slip away from you mentally. It is sometimes painful to watch, especially if you have experienced anything similarly, with your own parent or another elder, yourself. However there are great moments of humor, some of them intentional, some of them not: for example when Ellen (Allen’s character says “Just shoot me” when she has to repeat herself multiple times. Conversely when Ellen, Daniel, Howard and even Don have to yell at Ellen to be understood, and voices overlap and collide, it feels a bit like farce.

This is a great production, expertly directed and brilliantly acted, especially by the great Ms. May, who shows so much restraint that she never seems to be acting senile, and never goes over the top. There is amazing lack of self-awareness when she gets befuddled that makes it seem that she is more befuddled by the befuddlement than she is by the original thought or idea that brought upon the befuddlement.  A remarkable performance. All the actors are great: Allen who got her start on the NY stage brings warmth and a slyness to a daughter whose patience is continually tested and Hedges proves once again he is one the most intelligent and talented young actors working today. Although the play is heartbreaking it is strangely uplifting as well. We are all indeed human, and being human can hurt a lot, but there is also a lot of love out there too. Directed by Lila Neugebauer

At the Golden Theater 45th Street, New York, NY, closing January 27, 2019

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