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Bob Goepfert Reviews Curtain Call Theatre's Production Of "Family Furniture"

LATHAM   - A.R. Gurney is as much a historian as he is a playwright.  His newest play, “Family Furniture,” being offered at Curtain Call Theatre in Latham through October 11, is a detailed portrait of life as it was lived in the 1950s.

Gurney uses a privileged family living in Buffalo to paint a picture of an era on the cusp of change.  The father clings to the habit of keeping his own council and showing a stiff upper-lip when things go wrong.  His wife seems the ideal companion.  She donates her time for the best causes, is socially adept and plays a great game of tennis.

However Russell’s perfect world is cracking and his passive-aggressive approach to problem solving no longer works.  Whether he likes it or not things are changing and he is powerless to prevent it.

His wife Claire is probably having an affair.  His son Nick is in love with Betsy, an assertive Jewish college student and his daughter Peggy wants to marry Marco, an Italian boy with few social credentials.  None of these things were appropriate behavior in the 1950s.

Gurney is a great craftsman.  He constructs a play that involves the audience in the life of this family and their insignificant domestic problems.   This happens because besides being an expert craftsman, Gurney is also a crafty playwright.   What in the first act seems a talky play about the collapse of the father’s world, in the second act becomes a play about the future of his son Nick.   

Like all good historians, Gurney knows you cannot appreciate the present without understanding the past.   Nick’s future, which is being shaped in the play, is really our recent past.  Thus, instead of a play about a bgone era, “Family Furniture” becomes a play about how our social customs evolved to where they are.

To be clear, “Family Furniture” is not a profound play.  Indeed, the insights gained are barely enough to make the play worth producing.  It’s a pleasant family drama about people who are difficult to like, but impossible to dislike.

It is given a fine production at Curtain Call.   Director Bruce C. Brown permits a leisurely pace that rarely becomes tedious. He bravely and patiently trusts the play to work its small charms at its own timetable – which is about 15 minutes too long.

Performances are also good as every performer captures the innocence of the era.  Perhaps because the play is really about the future, the dilemmas of the young people are more involving.

Lecco Morris is nicely understated as Nick, the son who comes to accept and understand that his mother’s personal journey is much the same as his own – only more difficult.  He brings a healthy sincerity to the young man and his honest portrayal permits his humor to be charming and funny rather than cynical.

Christine Doige is refreshing as the outsider girlfriend.   The talented actress is able to walk the fine line between showing the outspoken Betsy as a woman of the future without making her too annoying in the present.  For sure the couple will marry, but for certain they will divorce.

David C. Braucher looks perfect for the aristocratic role of the father.  And indeed, his almost uncomfortable formality soon becomes ideal for the man who is adrift because he let himself become rigidly defined by culture and family history.

Barbara Milner plays Claire as an isolated figure and a woman trapped in an unloving marriage with needs that are impossible to define.  It is not until her well-delivered tender monologue at play’s end does she become a person worth caring about.

Peggy is, like her mother, an undeveloped character in the play and in life. Lynn Stefani shows that she too is a person who defines herself by another’s love.  However, Stefani finds an inner strength in the woman that suggests Peggy will be able to make her own decisions about life and love much quicker than did her mother.

Set designer Janet Heath effectively solves the many scene changes and costume designer Sherry Recinella and sound designer Ann Warren evoke the era of the play.

“Family Furniture” is a not special play and is almost a theatrical time capsule.  However, it is a comfortable, gentle night in the theater.

“Family Furniture” at Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Loudon Road, Latham.  Through October 11. Performances 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Saturdays & Fridays, 3 p.m. Sundays.    877-7529.   

Bob Goepfert is the arts editor for the Troy Record.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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