BWW Review: Theatre Artists Studio Presents A. R. Gurney's LOVE AND MONEY
As a last hurrah to his favorite object of dissection, the privileged class of white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs), 85-year-old A. R. Gurney (a year before his passing in 2017) published LOVE AND MONEY, a light-hearted and humorous poke at the affectations of wealth. It may not stand as one of his greatest works, certainly not when compared to THE COCKTAIL PARTY, SYLVIA, or LOVE LETTERS. It is nevertheless a play rich in finely-crafted badinage and finely defined characters, all the more enjoyable when presented with as well-rounded a cast as now appears in Theatre Artists Studio's staging of the show, deftly directed by Carol MacLeod.
The story revolves around the decision of Cornelia Cunningham (Patti Suarez) to leave her worldly possessions to charities for children. This patrician widow, who has enjoyed the benefits of unearned privilege, has no qualms about confessing to the inequities between the haves and have-nots and affirming, in the most certain of terms, that money corrupts. She has suffered the tragic losses of her children. Her grandchildren are unworthy. Money is evil. In firm rebuttal to her past life, her legacy is now to endow love. Once done, she has determined to abandon her upscale lifestyle for the comforts of a retirement facility.
Ms. Suarez excels in capturing Cornelia's wit and wisdom, feistiness and cynicism, fatalism and joie de vivre. It is a role whose complexities she plays with aplomb, balance, and a perfect touch of class.
Cornelia's attorney Harvey Abel (Jason Isaak) puts a wrinkle in Cornelia's plans when he advises her that someone has claimed to be an heir, the unbeknownst-to-now son of her deceased daughter. No time to waste, the heir-apparent appears ~ an affable self-assured young African-American by the name of Walker "Scott" Williams (a dashing Jamal Peters).
The game of wits is on as the poseur aims to win Cornelia's favor with a combination of charm and intelligence. After all, he shows himself to be well-versed in the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald (thus his adopted nickname) and Cole Porter, certainly an adequate supply of attributes to be deemed a worthy candidate for inheritance.
The interaction between Suarez and Peters is sharp and well-paced, the dynamic between the two totally engaging. All the while, Abel looks on skeptically. Cornelia's maid Agnes (Judy Rollings, simply hilarious) provides announcements of arrivals and tea service along with snappy chatter. And a Julliard student (Jessica Worth) shows up to accept the donation of a player piano, which just so happens to have an ample collection of (you guessed it!) Cole Porter tunes and provides Ms. Worth an opportunity to regale us with her velvet vocals.
Here's a play that has a happy and virtuous ending, accentuated, perhaps not surprisingly, by a round of Cole Porter songs. As far as the truth of Scott's claim as an heir is concerned...well, let's just say he gets his just rewards for the performer that he is.
One can only imagine the fun Gurney had in penning this play, offering pertinent allusions to Cole Porter, whom Cornelia dubs the poet laureate of the WASPs, and Fitzgerald, himself the chronicler of the excesses of high society. Even Charles Dickens, the social critic who put the spotlight on poverty, gets mention, as Cornelia's well-stocked library includes a collection of Boz's works. The play is fun all-around, accentuating the novel proposition that love is more valuable than money.
LOVE AND MONEY runs through May 19th at The Studio in Scottsdale, AZ.
Photo credit to Mark Gluckman: Patti Suarez & Jamal Peters
Theatre Artists Studio ~ https://www.thestudiophx.org/ ~ 602-765-0120 ~ 12406 N. Paradise Village Parkway East, Scottsdale, AZ