The tale of a would-be, could-be romance between two unhappily married, middle-aged people–Austin (Laurence Lau) and Ruth (Barbara Garrick)–never really comes together, due to the constant interruptions from “Sally and Others” and “Jim and Others” at a party which reunites them, many years after they first met on the Isle of Capri, when Austin was stationed with the U.S. Navy.
Though the set-up reminds one even more of Talley’s Folly than of the James’ tale, Later Life never achieves the depth of that earlier play by Lanford Wilson. Instead of being invested in the characters at the center of the drama, Later Life seems more interested in Gurney’s regular theme of being a WASP in these United States–in this case, circa 1993 (when the play premiered)–with references to “squash rackets,” “Prozac,” “Harvard,” “Radcliffe,” “Wellesley”–not to mention George Bush Senior having been replaced by Bill Clinton.
Set on a terrace overlooking Boston Harbor, the play is also dated, now, by references to “DOS,” “Powerbook” and “WordPerfect.” Given such specific terms, what potentially worked with immediacy when it was new has quickly become stale and less effective over time. But Later Life also suffers from a failure to make “Austin from Boston,” or Ruth, anything more than empty vessels. It’s almost as if in emulating James’ characterization of his main character, Gurney channeled him too well. Both as written and portrayed, Ruth is too Waspish cool for us to even care that her offstage husband is an abusive “barbarian” and Austin is too aloof to ever become real.
Keen Company usually does much better work than this. This production of Later Life has been directed with customary efficiency by Jonathan Silverstein. And although Jodie Markell and Liam Craig play the numerous other partygoers too broadly, Jennifer Paar’s tell-tale costume designs help delineate each and every one of them. It’s all played out on a rather elongated, nondescript set design by Steven Kemp which seems to swallow or dwarf the actors who were already dwarfed by the play itself. The many lights above the terrace, designed by David Lander, do little to illuminate the story.
Later Life (through April 14, 2018)
The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-239-6200 or visit http://www.keencompany.org
Running time: 85 minutes without an intermission