By PAM HARBAUGH
Melbourne Civic Theatre dusts off A.R. Gurney’s subtle and witty play, “The Cocktail Hour,” with a production that is both taut and articulate.
In it, Bradley and Ann have lived the good life, and continue to do so as long as they look in the rear view mirror. It’s the 1970s, the world is changing and they’ll have none of it.
They maintain their sacred ritual of the daily cocktail hour, when family and friends can gather to discuss their day in a civilized manner. They have no worries. The ice clinks in the glasses and bottles of tonic water fizz open, they play albums on their hi-fi and they gaze upon the lake from their well-appointed home in upstate New York. Their only worry is if the maid will have the dinner prepared on time.
But time and tide stir society. The help has ruined the roast thanks to a new contraption called the microwave. Their daughter Nina wants to spend half her time in Cleveland to learn more about seeing eye dogs. Their son Jigger never shows up. Their oldest, John, a New York City publisher is visiting to ask their blessing for a semi-autobiographical play he has written, “The Cocktail Hour.”
Bradley and Ann object that the play hits too close to home. After knocking back a couple of drinks and peeling back some Freudian layers, John realizes that he doesn’t just want their permission, but something he has long desired — their approval.
A.R. Gurney labels his play a comedy. Indeed there is wit in the sophisticated dialogue as written. But in the MCT production, directed by Peg Girard, it rings more as realistic melodrama. Nevertheless, we invest in John’s struggle to make his parents accept him as a serious playwright and cheer on Nina in her own struggle to find happiness.
We observe the human interactions and what you see blossom are the dynamics of family — arguments waged, secrets revealed and patience diluted through drink. Through it all, an undercurrent of love warms this family.
Ed Guilbeau brings a stubborn strength and unexpected tenderness to Bradley, the father who warns his son “you don’t need to write plays, you have a perfectly fine job in publishing.”
Nellie Brannan hits the mark as Ann, a lady who always asks for “just a splash” more in her cocktail while she waits for “the girl” to fix the dinner.
Anthony Mowad finds a sweet spot in John’s tug of war from being patient to growing exasperated.
But it is Emily Pickens who brings the brightest spark on stage in her portrayal of dutiful Nina. She brings that necessary snap of wit and energy to the stage as she pouts and whines and stomps over her own desires being dismissed.
MCT scenic/lighting and technical director Alan Selby crafts a thoughtful, splendid environment for these characters. Sound designer Wendy Reader adds the offstage reality of a gathering storm.
Although the humor may not ring out that loud, “The Cocktail Hour” befits the oncoming holiday season when families gather, hopes are raised, then dashed then patched together again. And, it’s always a good to open the family album, as it were, on some of the nearly forgotten jewels of American theater.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Cocktail Hour” runs through Nov. 3 at Melbourne Civic Theatre, 817 E. Strawbridge Ave., Melbourne. Tickets are general and students, military and senior. service fee for credit card use. Call 321-723-6935 or visit www.mymct.org.