Review Roundup: THE WAYSIDE MOTOR INN Opens Off-Broadway

By: Sep. 04, 2014
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Signature Theatre presents The Wayside Motor Inn by A.R. Gurney, directed by Lila Neugebauer. The production opens tonight, September 4, in The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center.

The cast includes Kelly AuCoin (The Call, "The Americans") as Andy, Jon DeVries (The Apple Family Plays, American Gangster) as Frank, Quincy Dunn-Baker (Signature Theatre's The First Breeze of Summer, The Big Wedding) as Ray, Rebecca Henderson (The Whale; Too Much, Too Much, Too Many) as Ruth, Tony Award-nominee Marc Kudisch (Hand to God, 9 to 5) as Vince, Jenn Lyon ("Saint George," The Coast of Utopia) as Sharon, Lizbeth Mackay (Picnic, Domesticated) as Jessie, David McElwee ("Boardwalk Empire") as Phil, Ismenia Mendes (Much Ado About Nothing) as Sally and Will Pullen (Scarcity, Your Mother's Copy of the Kama Sutra) as Mark.

Outside Boston, ten people-some strangers, some not-struggle with the circumstances that have brought them to The Wayside Motor Inn. With old grudges and new feuds threatening the travelers' peace, this funny and moving work kicks off A. R. Gurney's Signature Residency by examining the tenuous space between loneliness and connection, and the fragile framework of the American Dream.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: The difference between innovative and gimmicky can probably be found somewhere in the thirty-seven years since A.R. Gurney's The Wayside Motor Inn premiered. Audience members are more likely to leave the Signature Theatre Company's lovely new mounting remembering the play's non-traditional structure more than any particular plot point but the combination of fine writing, filled with genuine humor and touching pathos, and a strong ensemble of performances guided by Lila Neugebauer's fluid direction make for a satisfying stay.

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Mr. Gurney's writing, as ever, is humane, well observed and sometimes wryly funny, although none of the story lines are particularly stirring, or, for that matter, original...But the incisive acting helps paper over the banalities...All the performers deserve individual commendation, both for the ease with which they bring their characters to life in short spurts of conversation, and for their ability to remain present (in a sense) even when their characters retire to the fringes of the action...Taken together, the small crises in these ordinary lives underscore how hard it can be for us to hear -- and to heed -- the yearnings of even the people closest to us.

David Cote, Time Out NY: Director Lila Neugebauer and her cast must keep up the dramatic tension and move characters plausibly about the space without them colliding. If such a stunt works--and it really does--the visual and thematic overlap evokes a modern-day "seven ages" of man and woman...The ensemble is excellent and meshes together seamlessly...The stories themselves might not be terribly original in isolation, but intercutting among disparate lives creates marvelous sympathetic resonance. And of course, Gurney is a first-rate writer of bittersweet, well-observed banter, a true craftsman...You come away from this rich, satisfying revival thinking that motel rooms often all look alike, but every occupant has a unique story.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: I suspect it's an enormous challenge for the actors to converse with their partners without interrupting dialogue in the other pairings, where other little dramas are unfolding just inches away. The 10 performers assembled here are wholly up to the task...Nothing gets wrapped up at The Wayside Motor Inn, so if you need your drama with resolutions, look elsewhere. What Gurney and Signature offer, compellingly, is a slice-of-life drama in which the mundane tasks of a day--going for a drive on the turnpike, stitching a torn shirt, or ordering a burger from room service--make for all the excitement we need.

Jesse Green, Vulture: In each subplot, someone gets restless being stuck in the joyless lodging. And because there is no superplot, so did I. The stories are, in themselves, banal, even for 1977...The trick is that all five are instead chopped up, interspersed, and played at the same time on one set -- a dramatic expediency permitted by the expediency of motel design. It's cleverly done: The action in one plot is timed to the holes in the others so that the stage is never too noisy or crowded, and each story, though frequently interrupted, plays out neatly and unambitiously through the two acts...It's the jamming together of the stories, not the stories themselves, that allows us to reflect on the way lives are happening around us, with only our narcissistic tunnel vision preventing us from noticing their myriad pains and hopes.

Matt Windman, AM New York: If the play itself is relatively unimportant, and each subplot is thin on details, the combined portrait is pretty lively. Director Lila Neugebauer deserves a lot of credit for literally directing traffic, as do the actors for being able to stay focused on their own subplots in the midst of so much activity and fill their characters with a good deal of nuance.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: So many stock characters show up at "The Wayside Motor Inn" that you wish you could hang a No Vacancy sign. And then get room service to get rid of the overstated themes. Fortunately, though, top-notch performances keep you from requesting an early check-out...Despite the script's lack of subtlety, 10 terrific performances hold you tight. Director Lila Neugebauer's polished staging is just as fine. Furnishings along with chunky-soled shoes and three-piece suits bespeak the '70s. But the idea that life is filled with tumult makes "The Wayside Motor Inn" more than a period piece.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post: This somewhat obscure 1977 well served by Lila Neugebauer's fluid staging. As the action hopscotches from one story line to another and back again, you easily follow what's going on...Gurney uses the transient setting of a motel room to give us the whole life cycle in one go: puppy love and breakup, loneliness and companionship, coming of age and death. It's a lot to cover, especially since everybody's miserably going through the motions. And despite the good cast's efforts, it's tough to care for the characters, who don't transcend the willfully banal events. The show has compelling moments, but you may find yourself glancing at your watch, waiting for checkout.

Melissa Rose Bernardo, Entertainment Weekly: Gurney very thoughtfully divides the stage time (and plot lines) relatively equally among his 10 motel dwellers. We learn just enough about each of them to be intrigued--why can't overbearing dad Vince (Marc Kudisch) lay off his kid Mark (Will Pullen) already?--but not enough to grow attached. Will horny college students Phil (David McElwee) and Sally (Ismenia Mendes) last beyond this one booze- and grass-filled night? Will warring couple Andy (Kelly AuCoin) and Ruth (Rebecca Henderson) reconcile? Will Frank's heart hold out? Perhaps Gurney knows...but after two hours, we're pretty much ready to check out. B

Brendan Lemon, Financial Times: I'm not sure anyone could have completely resuscitated this two-act piece. Initially engaging as an experiment in form, the play is neither strong enough in conception to challenge our notions of narrative nor ingenious enough in resolution to provide us with more conventional pleasures...Director Lila Neugebauer's staging is heroic: within a single room dominated by two beds she must choreograph the ceaseless va-et-vient of the characters. Among the cast, I especially admired David McElwee and Ismenia Mendes as the student couple, and Jenn Lyon, whose environmentally concerned waitress provides welcome comic relief.

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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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