LEWISTON — In many ways, “The Cocktail Hour,” now playing on The Public Theatre stage, is a lot like Downton Abbey come to Buffalo, N.Y.. Tradition, status and changing times are the themes addressed by playwright A.R. Gurney, and four excellent actors give this play a delightfully amusing treatment.
Ellen Crawford and Mike Genovese (from NBC-TV’s “ER”), who are husband and wife in real life, team up on stage again in this TPT production as an upper-middle-class couple whose children are chipping away at their out-dated societal values. The performances by Crawford and Genevese are sharply drawn depictions of well-to-do people hanging on to a waning lifestyle.
Kyle Knauf makes his first appearance on the TPT stage as John, the son who has written a play about the family and wants his parents’ approval for its production. Beth Hylton portrays Nina, his sister. Outwardly, she supplies solid support for her mother and father in their advancing years, but she has her own ambitions that are in conflict with the old way of life.
It’s difficult to tack supporting role labels on either of the son and daughter roles. They are written and performed on an equal level with the leading parts.
The children, now middle-aged, unleash an abundance of long-buried bitterness, and that makes the first act a bit heavy on arguments, personal attacks and sharp satiric humor. For a comedy, the audience might feel a bit unsure at intermission, so there was some interesting lobby conversation on opening night. That’s when the people with some background knowledge of the author and his autobiographical connections in “The Cocktail Hour” could be overheard filling others in. Gurney (John in the play) actually faced the same opposition to violating his own family’s privacy on the stage when he presented them with his script for this play.
In the second act, the situation lightens up as a temporary cook (unseen) bungles the dinner, and a brother, who is also challenging the family rules, enters the picture in a phone call.
Genovese (as Bradley, the father) places a high value on the revered cocktail hour, and the free-flowing alcohol does little to help John when he faces Bradley’s barely restrained upper-class wrath over a perceived betrayal.
Crawford is a loyal wife who finds that the unbending traditions may have had unintended consequences for the three offspring. Her realization of the errors, revealed when John digs into the past in act two, supply the satisfying ending to “The Cocktail Hour.”
Crawford and Genevese starred at TPT several years ago in another A.R. Gurney play, “Love Letters.” More recently, they played Ethel and Norman Thayer in TPT’s hit production of “On Golden Pond.” Hylton also appeared in that play as Chelsea.
Knauf has a long list of off-Broadway credits. He was recently seen as Hamlet in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” at the Hudson Guild Theater in New York City.
The show’s direction by Janet Mitchko, TPT’s co-artistic director, assures excellent performances by the four actors. “The Cocktail Hour” takes place in the 1970s and Gurney’s play was first produced in the late 1980s.
Set designer Jennifer Madigan provided a suitably well-appointed living room with grand piano.
Remaining performances of “The Cocktail Hour” are Oct. 23-26. The Thursday and Friday shows are at 7:30 p.m., the Saturday evening show is at 8 p.m., and the Sunday performance is at 2 p.m.
TPT’s new PLAY PAL program for people who love going to the theatre but can’t always find someone to go with, will be introduced at an added 3 p.m. performance on Saturday, Oct. 25. It offers solo theatre-goers an opportunity to connect with other solo theatre-lovers. They will be seated together and identified to each other, and they get a coupon for a free concession item plus a “getting to know you” game card offering a chance to win fun prizes.
For tickets call The Public Theatre Box Office at 782-3200 or visit www.thepublictheatre.org. The Public Theatre is located at 31 Maple St. in downtown Lewiston.