Omission Statements

Artistic mediocrity is never found out at The Waverly Gallery, Kenneth Lonergan's obstinate and unsatisfying play about a young man's travails with his grandmother's advancing senility. It's hard, in fact, to know what art or anything else has to do with the action, which locks itself onto the heroine's Alzheimer-like symptoms and reiterates them through a series of increasingly fraught instances. That this isn't dramatically interesting seems to strike Lonergan occasionally: He throws in funny and accurate family-dinner scenes where everybody talks at once, and scenes with the oafish naive artist whose exhibit closes the old lady's Village gallery. We get no hint of the gallery's former glories, if any, and only the dimmest sense of Village life before senility set in; that this waning mind is losing a precious heritage of some kind isn't an issue. Nor, apparently, is the real-estate crunch that's moving her out of her cherished space, a motif handled so perfunctorily it suggests an effort to conform to some dramaturg's notes. It's all the more puzzling because the best aspect of This Is Our Youth, Lonergan's previous play, was its elegantly built plot.

The best aspect of The Waverly Gallery is the acting, under Scott Ellis's direction. Josh Hamilton, an actor whose inner light isn't easily switched on, plays the grandson movingly; Mark Blum draws a lethally funny caricature of his stepfather; Maureen Anderman, as his mother, almost turns the petty annoyances of domestic life into heroic tragedy. And an actress who can register all the phases of old age —forgetfulness, complacency, blank terror, childish tantrums, denial, and blissful recollection—with the lucid, ferocious accuracy of Eileen Heckart must have a mind as sharp and energetic as a 20-year-old's. Though now visibly frail, Heckart is wholly present; when the cast comes out for the curtain call, she's got the springiest step of the lot.

Peter Jacobson and Pamela Payton-Wright in What You Get and What You Expect: They handle these things better in France.
photo: Joan Marcus
Peter Jacobson and Pamela Payton-Wright in What You Get and What You Expect: They handle these things better in France.


What You Get and
What You Expect

By Jean-Marie Besset
Translated by Hal J. Witt
New York Theatre Workshop
79 East 4th Street

The Waverly Gallery
By Kenneth Lonergan
Promenade Theatre
Broadway and 76th Street

By David Cale
Theatre at St. Clement's
423 West 46th Street

There was no spring in my step as I left Betwixt, David Cale's new collection of mono- and duologues, for which he shares the stage with Cara Seymour. I wasn't elated because the evening had never come to life. Cale's characters are thematically linked—all stuck between two cultures, or two genders, or two ambitions, or whatever—but most of them aren't anything beyond that. A few are funny, a few are outrageous in a tall-tale way, a few, like a piece Seymour did about sex on a beach, indulge in standard kitsch fantasies. Some of them suit the performers; others don't. Overamplified guitar music by Jonathan Kreisberg, which would sound better unplugged, takes too much time filling in the gaps. And meanwhile? It isn't theater. And you can't kick back to enjoy it as cabaret, without a table to lean on, a drink, and some finger food. So what's it doing up there? And why does such small work require two directors? I dunno. I've liked earlier Cale pieces, which had an arc; this one's a flatliner.

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