Signature Theatre Presents:
The Wayside Motor Inn
By A.R. Gurney
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
(Signature Theatre Website)
James Houghton, Founding Artistic Director
Erika Mallin, Exec. Director
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
New York, NY 10036
(212) 244-PLAY (7529)
Kelly AuCoin, Jon DeVries, Quincy Dunn-Baker,
Rebecca Henderson, Marc Kudisch, Jenn Lyon,
Lizbeth Mackay, David McElwee,
Ismenia Mendes, Will Pullen
Scenic Design: Andrew Lieberman
Costume Design: Kaye Voyce
Lighting Design: Tyler Micoleau
Sound Design: Stowe Nelson
Dialect Coach: Charlotte Fleck
Production Stage Manager: Donald Fried
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler, CSA
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Gilbert Medina
Director of Marketing: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 18, 2014
A.R. Gurney’s The Wayside Motor Inn, set outside Boston in the late 1970’s, is an engaging revival, but not monumental. As one who grew up in the environs of the actual Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, in Sudbury, named for Longfellow’s 1863 book of poems about traveling guests, called Tales of a Wayside Inn, I certainly could not have seen Harvard from any roof or balcony, as Gurney’s character Vince could, in tonight’s two-act play. Yet, that logistical note is minor to the illogical name of a generic, spartan motor inn, near a traffic circle (maybe Copley Square, or thereabouts). What is not minor is the dizzying sense of people traffic in a double-bedded motel room, with five character duos, in real time, who break down the walls, so to speak, as if they are all in look-alike rooms, arguing, fighting, ripping a shirt, flirting, phoning, having a heart attack, being intimate in a bathtub, or tossing marital photos at one another. This action occurs, one duo at a time, as the others essentially freeze, like painted backdrop figures. The action would have been better served, staged as French farce, Feydeau-styled, in and out of hall, bathroom, and balcony doors, or even from under bed covers. There would have been more camp and energy. As it was, the play became two acts of repetitive inaction, with only the order of words changing. Initial relationships changed in minute increments, if at all.
The ten characters, in five, verbal pas de deux, begin with Ray (Quincy Dunn-Baker), a tense, simmering traveling salesman, slick as oil, who waits for a phone call to plug in his sales. He first seethingly reassures his offstage wife, by phone, that he’s alone for the night. Then he phones a “lady” from his little book, to no avail. Later, Sharon (Jenn Lyon) brings room service, and he remembers her from an anti-government rally. She’s cute, he flirts, banter follows, and so on. The second duo is a middle-aged couple, Jessie (Lisbeth Mackay) and her cranky, pained husband, Frank (Jon DeVries). They’re in town to visit their daughter and new baby grandchild, but Frank wants to rest alone, and Jessie gets lost on the highway. The third duo is a father and son, the night before an interview at Harvard, preceded by dinner with an influential contact. Vince (Marc Kudisch) sees himself rising in status through the Ivy League aura, and Mark (Will Pullen) is terrified of the interview, sick to his stomach, and blames his father for his stress. Next, Phil (David McElwee) and Sally (Ismenia Mendes) arrive for a private tryst, Phil’s pushy idea, as Sally hides behind a book, afraid of the foreboding intimacy. She strings him out, until he plies her with alcohol, and they discover the joys of a bathtub. Finally, Andy (Kelly AuCoin) arrives separately from Ruth (Rebecca Henderson), as they’re almost divorced, living in different cities, and finalizing papers and property. The family albums become hot items, even hot enough to melt most of their ice.
Of the ten characters, appearing and disappearing, verbalizing and freezing, Quincy Dunn-Baker, Marc Kudisch, and Jenn Lyon seemed the most fascinating. Mr. Dunn-Baker epitomized the fast-talking, mid-twentieth century, “traveling salesman” genre of characters. His Ray was a street hustler, a heavy breather, a wannabe John Travolta. But, he wanted Sharon’s company almost as much as her body, and his neediness was omnipresent. Ms. Lyon’s Sharon is so much more than a room service lady, with her fast-talking jibes at Ray’s tart flirtations quite witty and perfectly timed. Among the four actual couples, the Dunn-Baker-Lyon duo should be reinvented in a future Off-Broadway play. There was chemistry there. Mr. Kudisch’s Vince was also palpably needy, seeing himself at Harvard football games and in country clubs, now beyond his credentials. He worked hard, and he envisions climbing on his son’s ivy ladder as his well-deserved payoff. Lila Neugebauer directed tightly to keep the ten-character dialogues seamlessly fluid. Also, staging kept reoccurring characters from walking into each other’s backs.
Andrew Lieberman’s set brought back images of copper chenille bedspreads, dark plaid wallpaper, and cheap maple furniture, but this was no motor inn to enhance romance or comfort. For this play, the set was splendidly conceived. Kaye Voyce’s costumes were 70’s non-descript, and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting kept the spotlights shifting. Charlotte Fleck’s dialect coaching had Sharon, the local, outside-Boston waitress’ accent pretty true to form. I wonder what Mr. Gurney could do with a sequel, based on Longfellow’s characters in 1863, at the actual, still-standing Longfellow’s Wayside Inn and Grist Mill, a classy, historical abode, where I’ve dined on holidays and special events, over the decades. This Inn, steeped in literature, might just have housed couples and characters similar to those discussed above.