As Love & Money opens, Cornelia is sitting in her posh Manhattan townhouse surrounded by her accrued possessions, all of which have little tags on them. She is in the process of giving this material evidence of a “mis-led” life and the requests have come from all corners of society: Juilliard, American Indians, etc. She explains, “I’m expiating my crime before I die.”
A young, eager lawyer, Harvey Abel (Joe Paulik) tries fruitlessly to get her to slow down and be more thoughtful in her charity. Cornelia’s response is to question the young man’s credentials and ethnic background, leading to some bantering argument before she accepts his professional standing. Even so, she remains unwilling to take his advice.
The Cunningham household is actually run by the Irish housekeeper, Agnes Munger (Pamela Dunlap) whose wry judgments make for some funny comments. Ms. Dunlap’s sardonic glances alone are worth the price of admission.
Suddenly, Walker “Scott” Williams (Gabriel Brown), a twenty-something African-American invades the peace and claims to be son of Cornelia’s late daughter Louisa, bringing evidence to prove his contention. Harvey points out that Cornelia must tread carefully and take his wild assertions with a grain of salt.
The rest of the play charmingly investigates the ins and outs of Walker’s claim and gets into the back stories of each of the characters. What saves it from floating off is Gurney’s virtuoso use of language and his affection for each of his characters, including a dour Juilliard student, Jessica (Kahyun Kim) who drops by to try out Cornelia’s antique piano before it is shipped off to Juilliard only to become the object of Walker’s affections.
Although there are elements of the old-fashioned drawing room comedies so popular on Broadway in the good old days, the style is closest to the daffy, fast-paced Hollywood movies of the late thirties and early forties: the maid (think Patsy Kelly); the daffy dowager (Helen Broderick or Rosalind Russell); and the staid lawyer (a young James Stewart). Unfortunately the young interloper hasn’t an equivalent, but is close to the character Paul that John Guare invented in Six Degrees of Separation, which gets a hilarious passing reference.
Love & Money is light, literate entertainment, impeccably acted by its small cast led by the charismatic Ms. Anderman. Mr. Paulik amusingly projects his lack of experience while putting up a gruff front. Ms. Dunlap’s Agnes is priceless. Mr. Brown is a tad too much of a whirlwind as Walker, but as his façade cracks, he warms up nicely. Ms. Kim is onstage for less than four minutes, but made a good impression.
The scenic design and costume design by Michael Yeargan and Jess Goldstein, respectively, are brilliantly on target, capturing this rarified world and those who seek to enter it.
The very experienced Mark Lamos, the current artistic director of the Westport Country Playhouse where the show premiered, kept the play from floating away, and the characters from becoming caricatures.
Although Love & Money isn’t vintage Gurney, it’s delightful and breezy.
Love & Money (through October 4, 2015)
Signature Theatre and Westport Country Playhouse co-production
Griffin Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets call 212-244-7529 or visit http://www.signaturetheatre.org
Running time: one hour and 15 minutes, no intermission