NEW YORK—In A.R. Gurney’s “The Old Boy,” gubernatorial candidate Sam (Peter Rini), presently a State Department official, has come to his alma mater, a New England prep school, to deliver the commencement speech. His sharp assistant Bud (Cary Donaldson) is to create smooth sailing for the weekend.
Unfortunately, the person in charge of the project, Episcopal minister Dexter (Tom Riis Farrell), who pretty much runs things at the school, has lined up press attendees—in direct contradiction of Bud’s orders. Bud has insisted on no publicity, inasmuch as he feels that dissemination of the news of snobbish prep school activities might hurt rather than help Sam’s chances in the upcoming election.
Wealthy matron Harriet (Laura Esterman) is there to coax Sam to mention in his speech her promised gift of an indoor tennis court to the school. It will be in honor of her recently deceased son Perry (Chris Dwan), for whom Sam had served as “Old Boy” back in student days. “Old Boy” is a term that refers to an older student mentoring an incoming younger boy.
To complicate matters, also present is the attractive Alison (Marsha Dietlein Bennett), Perry’s widow and a former girlfriend of Sam, prior to her marriage to Perry.
Because Perry had never quite fit into things at the school, Sam had subtly (and not so subtly), with the noblest of intentions, manipulated Perry to curb his leanings toward the aesthetic, like his love of opera, and embrace more manly endeavors.
Sam even pushed Perry into the relationship and resulting marriage with Alison, a move that Alison now rages about in a long, potent scene with Sam.
This scene, which should have been a high point in the play, fails to achieve its potential, as, in my opinion, Marsha Dietlein Bennett’s Alison doesn’t fully experience and project the intense shock and ensuing rage that Sam’s revelations call for.
When Sam finally learns the true details of Perry’s mysterious death—that it was not an accidental overdose of pills as bruited about earlier, but rather a more distressing event—Sam decides at the last minute to perform an extreme revision of his earlier planned speech. His revised speech may wreak havoc on both his standing with the school and his political goals.
Sam’s and the play’s final turn of events is unlikely in the real world. Would that it were not so. But such acts of hard, noble truth seldom take place in politics as generally experienced.
The play’s time frame alternates between the 1960s, Sam’s school days with Perry, and the 1990s. This is sometimes confusing, as the actors involved portray both periods with little change in behavior or demeanor.
Under Jonathan Silverstein’s direction, Tom Farrell creates a believable and appealing cleric who loves his school; Laura Esterman is a suitable, hard-edged matron; Cary Donaldson is a cynical but concerned political assistant; and Chris Dwan’s Perry is nicely sensitive as a young man struggling with his sexual identity.
The appropriate set by Steven C. Kemp and good costumes by Jennifer Paar enhance the production’s overall effect.
“The Old Boy”
The Harold Clurman Theatre
410 West 42nd Street
Tickets: 212-239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com
Running Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Closes: March 30
Diana Barth publishes New Millennium, an arts publication. For information: [email protected]