BWW Reviews: Neugebauer Provides a Satisfying Stay at THE WAYSIDE MOTOR INN
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.
Set in the late 1970's, the play involves five pairs of characters, each occupying a room in a motor lodge outside of Boston and each with issues taking them to a crossroad of life. Though the simultaneous action takes place in each couple's separate unit, their dramas are played out in a single room, designed with an appropriately bland eye by Andrew Lieberman.
Gurney jumps from scene to scene, with each story presented in piecemeal, but characters not involved with the spotlighted action remain on stage, keeping still in their corner of the room. Well-timed exits keep all ten of them from being seen at once, but there's the constant visual reminder of the various dramas unfolding in this collection of short stays.
The most effective moments come courtesy of the play's two married couples. Kelly AuCoin and Rebecca Henderson are both touching and heartbreaking as a divorcing pair whose negotiations over the possession of family photos reveals their need to hold on to memories of happier times. Subtler emotions are brought forward by an older couple, beautifully essayed by Jon DeVries and Lizbeth Mackay, whose dependency for each other grows as their bodies age.
In contrast are David McElwee and Ismenia Mendes as young college students looking for a private place to have sex, but negotiating through the early stages of their relationship. Marc Kudisch is a dad who has arranged a meeting for his college-bound son (Will Pullen) with a connection who will help him ace his Harvard interview, but his desire for his boy to turn out better than him blinds him to the boy's desire to be an auto mechanic. Quincy Dunn-Baker is a lonely businessman on the road, looking to pass some time with a sassy and sympathetic waitress (Jenn Lyon).
Each story is unremarkable on its own, but together they make for a compelling community of moments. The Wayside Motor Inn, by design, is a modest piece, but Neugebauer and her ensemble bring out the contrasting rhythms and tones within each story to keep this town of transients intriguing.