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Later Life

Keen Company’s revival of A.R. Gurney’s would-be, could-be romance between two unhappily married, middle-aged people who are reunited at a party many years after they first met on the Isle of Capri.

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Barbara Garrick and Laurence Lau in a scene from Keen Company’s revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Later Life” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

David Kaufman

David Kaufman, Critic

In an “Author’s Note” to his play Later Life, A.R. Gurney explains that it was inspired by The Beast in the Jungle, a famous novella by Henry James, about a man who leads a “guarded” life. The sweet but slight resulting play is now in revival by the Keen Company, in a production that does nothing to elevate the play above its overly modest ambitions.

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.

Barbara Garrick, Jodie Markell and Liam Craig in a scene from Keen Company’s revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Later Life” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

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references to “squash rackets,” “Prozac,” “Harvard,” “Radcliffe,” “Wellesley”–not to mention George Bush Senior having been replaced by Bill Clinton.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.

Liam Craig, Jodie Markell and Laurence Lau in a scene from Keen Company’s revival of A.R. Gurney’s “Later Life” (Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

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)

Keen Company

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

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David Kaufman
About David Kaufman (80 Articles)
David Kaufman has been covering the theater in New York since 1981. A former theater critic for the New York Daily News, he was also a long-time contributor to the Nation, Vanity Fair, the Village Voice and the New York Times. He is also the author of the award-winning Ridiculous! The Theatrical Life and Times of Charles Ludlam, the best-selling Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, and his most recent biography, Some Enchanted Evenings: The Glittering Life and Times of Mary Martin.

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