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BWW Review: Maureen Anderman's a Charmer in A.R. Gurney's LOVE & MONEY

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If the plot of A.R. Gurney's newest, LOVE AND MONEY, seems more than vaguely familiar, that point is eventually fully acknowledged by the playwright, when a character refers to the exact story that most audience members must have thinking of throughout director Mark Lamos' agreeable production.

Maureen Anderman (Photo: Joan Marcus)

That big reveal is more of groaner than a gasper, and the shadow of the somewhat iconic other piece is a major drawback, but still, this is A.R. Gurney and there's enough of his gentle, cleverness to keep the proceedings genial for this 75-minute quickie.

There's also Maureen Anderman, who is just delightful as the central character, the elderly Cornelia. Since this is Gurney, she's naturally a proud WASP from Buffalo, with an appreciation for good literature and fine cocktails.

Designer Michael Yeargen's warmly handsome set depicts the library of her Upper East Side townhouse, where rare leather-bound volumes are neatly shelved and a player piano tickles us with nearly-forgotten Cole Porter gems like "Get Out Of Town" and "Make It Another Old-Fashioned, Please."

The opening scene shows lots of promise, with young hard-nose lawyer Harvey (terrific Joe Paulik) advising Cornelia to tone down her most recent charitable spending spree for fear that her remaining heirs may claim that she's not of right mind. As far as the generous lady is concerned her only heirs are two grandchildren for whom she's already sufficiently provided, but in comes a surprise guest off the bus from Buffalo; Scott (Gabriel Brown), who claims to be the son of her deceased daughter from a secret love affair.

Joe Paulik, Maureen Anderman and Gabriel Brown
(Photo: Joan Marcus)

Is he? It isn't long before Scott, who is black, is feeling out the white Cornelia for any possible discomfort regarding his claim of her daughter's sexual relationship with a black man, but she isn't fazed at all. In fact, she seems perfectly charmed by Scott. This is where the problem lies. Brown is playing one of those roles where the character may or may not be putting on an acting job. If he is, he doesn't seem very good at it. His Scott continually sounds scripted to say the right things to push Cornelia's buttons. He seems fake to the audience, to Harvey, to the brusque housekeeper, Agnes (a funny Pamela Dunlap), and certainly to Jessica (Kahyun Kim), the Julliard student he hits on when she comes by to look at the piano, which Cornelia has offered to donate.

The lady of the house seems enchanted with Scott, but is she merely going along with him because she enjoys the attention? Or is it the actor, not the character, who is giving the unconvincing performance?

The Signature Theatre Company's production is LOVE & MONEY's world premiere and perhaps some further tinkering can resolve its problems. At this point, while certainly flawed, the lightly philosophical comedy can provide a pleasing, if not totally satisfying time.

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