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"Love & Money", by A. R. Gurney, at The Pershing Square Signature Center
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Signature Theatre
Westport Country Playhouse
Love & Money

By A. R. Gurney
Directed by Mark Lamos

Signature Theatre
(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)

Maureen Anderman, Gabriel Brown, Pamela Dunlap
Kahyun Kim, and Joe Paulik

Scenic Design: Michael Yeargan
Costume Design: Jess Goldstein
Lighting Design: Stephen Strawbridge
Sound Design: John Gromada
Production Stage Manager: Matthew Melchiorre
Casting: Telsey + Company/William Cantler, CSA
Press Representative: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Assoc. Artistic Director: Beth Whitaker
General Manager: Gilbert Medina
Director of Marketing/Audience Services: David Hatkoff
Director of Production: Paul Ziemer

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
September 12, 2015 Matinee

A, R. Gurney has once again written a lighthearted parlor play (literally) about a wealthy WASP from Buffalo. In this case, the octogenarian, Cornelia Cunningham (Maureen Anderman) is selling her Upper East Side, Pre-War, NY brownstone and all its furnishings, historical books, china, silver, and valuable paintings, in order to donate a sizeable portion of her estate to charities of her choice. Cornelia has arranged to move to a luxury retirement complex, and she’s also arranged trusts for her housekeeper-cook, Agnes Munger (Pamela Dunlap), and her two estranged grandchildren, to cover their education. Cornelia’s two adult children have died, and she’s convinced that easy money ruined their lives. The sumptuous set, an actual parlor, stacked with antiques, white wood columns, oriental rugs, hardwood floors, elegant lamps, ornamental desk, and a player piano, however, become more magnetic than the scenic dialogues and occasional song. Cornelia’s new, youthful and attractive estate attorney, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik), confides in Cornelia about issues with his fiancée, and he gains Cornelia’s trust, but Mark Lamos’ direction leaves the relationships passive, maybe because Mr. Gurney’s backstories, as they unfold, are terribly shallow.

Harvey finally quiets Cornelia long enough to read her a letter from Buffalo, written by a young man named Walker “Scott” Williams, who, on seeing an announcement in the Buffalo newspaper about Cornelia’s charitable intentions for her estate, is claiming to be Cornelia’s secret grandson, the son of Cornelia’s deceased daughter, who, Walker claims, had a love affair with Walker’s married father. Upon learning of the letter, the doorbell rings, and in walks Walker, a tall African-American man in a suit. He’s dynamic, fast-talking, scintillating, and so on, and seems to have Cornelia convinced that his story has merit. Soon, this story slowly unravels, with enigmatic drama, and it’s the player piano that picks up the pace. Jessica Worth (Kahyun Kim), a Juilliard music student, arrives to try out Cornelia’s piano (which can be played manually, as well as automatically), prior to Cornelia’s piano gift to Juilliard. Walker then sweet-talks Jessica, or, rather, sweet-sings a Cole Porter tune, adding a fragment of romance. As noted above, the plot is shallow, as well as brief (one act). This play could have had Walker needing Cornelia’s funding for a compelling personal matter, one worthy of charity, a test for Cornelia’s soul. Instead, Walker’s drawn more in the style of a seductive salesman, and we watch Cornelia fall, or not fall, for his semi-persuasive pitch. Mr. Paulik’s Harvey, the attorney, does have charm, but he’s drawn as a passing stranger, as is Ms. Kim’s Jessica, the Juilliard student.

Mr. Brown’s Walker, the visitor who claims to be an heir, shows little emotion or turmoil, and Ms. Anderman’s Cornelia, the philanthropist, is drawn as a lady of means, whose pathos is driven by items in the news. One character, though, stood out. Pamela Dunlap, in a minor role as Agnes, who lives to clean, bake, and serve, was riveting in the moment, very well cast, especially when she’s invited to the dinner table as a guest and seems to burst with pride. She exuded humorous one-liners, with charm and confidence, and I’d like to see a Gurney play built on Agnes, the maid in a Pre-War brownstone. Thanks to Michael Yeargan’s set and Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting, the shadows of red brick, framed in painted black brick, and the white, colonial, interior columns evoked the height of Pre-War, East Side real estate. Jess Goldstein’s costumes were fairly non-descript, but, sadly, they fit into this play’s vibe. I look forward to seeing more of A. R. Gurney’s works, as always.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at