Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of Elaine May In THE WAVERLY GALLERY On Broadway?
A powerfully poignant and often hilarious play, The Waverly Gallery is about the final years of a generous, chatty, and feisty grandmother's final battle against Alzheimer's disease.
Gladys is an old-school lefty and social activist and longtime owner of a small art gallery in Greenwich Village. The play explores her fight to retain her independence and the subsequent effect of her decline on her family, especially her grandson.
More than a memory play, The Waverly Gallery captures the humor and strength of a family in the face of crisis.
Directed by Drama Desk and Obie Award winner Lila Neugebauer (in her Broadway debut), the cast includes Grammy Award winner and Academy and Golden Globe Award nominee, Elaine May, Academy Award nominee Lucas Hedges, Tony-winner David Cromer, and, in his third Lonergan play, Michael Cera and Tony Award-winner Joan Allen.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: "The Waverly Gallery" is very much a group portrait, in which everyday life is distorted to the point of surrealism by the addled soul at its center. And Ms. Neugebauer has assembled a dream cast to embody the collective madness that seems to descend on those closest to Gladys.
Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: Similar to Tennessee Williams' THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Lonergan's touching and humorous piece is a memory play, with the young Daniel occasionally narrating the story to the audience. For twenty-eight years the widowed Gladys has been running a small art gallery attached to a hotel across from Washington Square. It's never done great business, but the owner thought it attracted passers-by. Now he's decided to convert the place into a cafe and has given Gladys two months' notice.
Robert Hofler, TheWrap: May brings her comic genius to the role of Gladys, and that very off-center, always marvelously skewed approach to the text goes a long way toward making the character much less of a trial for us in the audience than she is supposed to be for the characters around her.
Greg Evans, Deadline: Opening tonight at the Golden Theatre, sensitively directed by Lila Neugebauer, Waverly Gallery - a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2001 only now making its long-in-coming Broadway debut - is an unsparing visit with a family in extremis. Performed by that first-rate cast - add David Cromer to the list - Lonergan's play, at once loving and unsentimental, gives attention to that long, inevitable passage in a family's life when the old slip away.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: What a pleasure to see improv queen Elaine May, erstwhile half of a legendary comedy double-act with Mike Nichols, back on Broadway after 50-plus years at 86, her timing as sharply idiosyncratic as ever. Even for those of us who know her acerbic style only from recordings, movies and playwriting, there's a special satisfaction in watching this influential humorist perform. She's alternately funny, maddening and heartbreaking as a longtime Greenwich Village fixture whose mind is deteriorating faster than her body in Kenneth Lonergan's The Waverly Gallery.
Joe Dziemianowicz, The New York Post: Despite the interminable scene changes set against black-and-white video of the bygone New York of Gladys' younger days, director Lila Neugebauer's production boasts fine details of its own, including evocative sets and costumes true to the time, place and character. One small but essential detail comes when the four family members sit down for a meal. They face each other, not the audience, in what recalls a real group portrait. And that's what "The Waverly Gallery" is all about.
Chris Jones, The Daily News: The 86-year-old Elaine May - who last appeared on Broadway 52 years ago in a show that ran for about 30 seconds - was gifted with a face formed in the shape of a smile. And anyone who remembers her iconic 1960s comedy routines with the late Mike Nichols knows that nobody, but nobody, listens to her scene partners as intensely as May. Especially now, it is revealed. She imbibes the energy of other actors like she's getting a blood transfusion, live on stage. That grinning visage, and that palpable zest for life, combine to make May's performance atop a starry new Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan's "The Waverly Gallery" (she's working with those kids Michael Cera, Joan Allen, Lucas Hedges and David Cromer) both one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see in a Broadway theater and one of the most profoundly sad.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Okay, so the poignancy is a bit heavy-handed, even under the thoughtful direction of Lila Neugebauer. But the sentiments are genuine (Lonergan has said that he wrote the play about his own aging grandmother) and the emotions they raise are potent. Truth to tell, this is a hard play to watch - like a play that opens with a deathly ill person and doggedly follows that person to the grave. In fact, if they gave a prize for Most Depressing Play of the Season, this one would win in a walk.
Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: But all the characters are set on a rinse-and-repeat sequence of impatience and anguish, which is very real when it comes to caring for a loved-one suffering from Alzheimer's but adds up to a hollow-feeling act of theatre that isn't sure if it wants its audience to laugh or cry, before queasily opting for both.
Adam Feldman, Time Out New York: The Waverly Gallery forces us to deal with the walking memento mori that Gladys has become, but in a way that never seems cruel. Infuriating though she often is, it's impossible to hate her, and the casting of May, in her return to the Broadway stage after more than half a century, works brilliantly. She is funny and warm and she's familiar, which helps fill in some of the play's emotional blanks: Our affection and respect for this titan of American comedy spills over into how we respond to her character.
Matt Windman, amNY: Among the many star turns on Broadway this fall - ranging from Bryan Cranston playing deranged newscaster Howard Beale to King Kong brought to life by an army of puppeteers and technicians - especially noteworthy is 86-year-old Elaine May giving her first performance on Broadway in more than 50 years in an otherwise underwhelming revival of Kenneth Lonergan's downbeat family drama "The Waverly Gallery," first produced Off-Broadway in 2000.
Alexis Soloski, The Guardian: The Waverly Gallery, now revived on Broadway, is an early play by Kenneth Lonergan and as directed by Lila Neugebauer and upraised by Elaine May's toweringly fragile performance, it is as quietly and ferociously sad as anything he has ever produced.
Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly: The Waverly Gallery never quite builds to the emotional power of his most memorable screen work like You Can Count On Me and Manchester by the Sea; its stakes are lower, its humor quieter, and its tragedies less piercing. But it does have a movie-star cast - and a bona-fide living legend, in Elaine May - as well as a low-key, humor-laced melancholy whose impact accumulates as the play goes on.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: The play tells us that we should remember Gladys's story, but doesn't take advantage of the infinite potential of its form in the telling of it. There are lots of things we should remember, from flossing to giving to charities, but what makes us remember theater is revelation. By confining itself to a familiar box, even an expertly rendered one, The Waverly Gallery ends up feeling smaller than it should, especially when its very mission is to see the world in a grain of sand. Even in the sensitive hands of its actors, especially May and Allen, it's an affecting play, but not a revelatory one.
Jesse Oxfeld. New York Stage Review: Ultimately, we know these people, and the slow sadness of Gladys's condition, the sad way so many die today when modern medicine-and, yes, some privilege-keeps them physically fine even as their minds disappear, is heartbreaking. I watched it happen to my grandmother. Sitting in the Golden, I thought about it happening one day to my parents. And eventually to me. That's why I found myself sobbing in the second act. And that's why this flawed play nevertheless packs a punch.
Melissa Rose Bernardo, New York Stage Review: Director Lila Neugebauer (Mary Page Marlowe, The Wolves) moves things at a methodical, molasses-slow pace-which is entirely appropriate given the material. The events should feel painfully slow. While Hedges' performance might seem too restrained, it matches Lonergan's unsentimental tone perfectly. And May-returning to the very theater where in 1960 she starred in the groundbreaking An Evening With Mike Nichols and Elaine May-makes Gladys wonderfully lovable, frustrating, funny, and, to use one of her favorite words, kooky. She's Every-grandma.
Christopher Kelly, NJ.com: This nearly plotless drama probably had more of an impact two decades ago, before stories of Alzheimer's patients in movies like "Iris," "Away from Her" or "The Notebook" were more common. Lonergan's writing, with its rapid-fire, overlapping dialogue meant to evoke the chaos inside Gladys' mind, also demands a precision that director Lila Neugebauer (making her Broadway debut) isn't able to bring. The comedy played at the expense of Gladys' struggles is handled too broadly, particularly in the first act, and the show occasionally flirts with tastelessness.
Barbara Schuler, Newsday: The drama here (the play was a Pulitzer finalist when first produced in 2000) gets its strength from the fine performances and from the horrific reality of a situation far too many of us know well. Like so many who've been there, this family is crippled by the lack of acceptable options for their loved one. Acting as narrator, as he's done throughout, Daniel suggests that loving each other so much means you have to keep trying, even if you know you won't prevail. "It makes you think," he concludes, "it must be worth a lot to be alive." Well said.
Roma Torre, NY1: Lonergan designed this as a memory play and Lucas Hedges's restrained narration offers welcome distance. Joan Allen wrenchingly evokes Ellen's conflicting emotions. And who can't relate to David Cromer's Howard, with his clumsy but well-intentioned efforts to communicate. And Michael Cera is almost unrecognizable with his subtle turn as a sympathetic artist without a lot of talent.