The Old Boy Lacks Pizzazz

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by: Sandi Durell

In this Keen Company newly revised version of A.R. Gurney’s “The Old Boy,” written in 1991, the theme of gays at a New England prep school may have been an eye-opener but is somewhat tarnished at this point.

When Sam (Peter Rini), a political State Department figure (and now candidate for Governor) and alumni, is asked to give a commencement speech at his alma mater New England boarding school, he interrupts his campaign, realizing something important was left undone when, as a student, he became the “Old Boy” or mentor to young Perry (Chris Dwan – seen in flashbacks) befriending him and hoping to teach him more appropriate behavior especially when Perry tells him about a sexual encounter he’s had with a man; Sam coming to realize he has inadvertently played a role in Perry’s death by giving him the wrong advice.

The play takes place in the 1990’s with flashbacks to the 60s, as the story unfolds when Perry enters the school, ushered in by his doting, controlling mother Harriet Pell (Laura Esterman) who is hoping her boy will come away with more manly attributes. Harriet is a rich divorcee and social climber and describes Perry as someone who “refuses to go to the net in tennis or in life.”

Introducing Perry to the girl he would marry, Alison (Marsha Dietlein Bennett), and with whom Sam had already had an affair, Alison shows up in the present with Perry’s mother for the commencement speech and to receive accolades for Mrs. Pell’s donation of tennis courts to the school. Although Sam is married (for the 2d time to a Washington, D.C. real estate broker), he and Alison are still attracted to each other and ready for another tryst. However, it all falls apart as realities are revealed – Perry’s true sexual identity and the fact that he died of AIDS, not an overdose of medications. Alison’s amorous affection soon turns to anger as she realizes what Sam did in his efforts to help Perry go straight.

All the while Sam’s aide Bud (Cary Donaldson) is trying to keep Sam from undoing his career as he perceives the direction in which Sam is headed. The cast is rounded out with Dexter (Tom Riis Farrell) as the jovial Episcopalian Minister at the school for 30 years.

The scenes between Sam and Alison seem the most daunting and difficult as their emotional input and lack of connection give the feeling as if they were just repeating lines in the script. Ms. Esterman’s portrayal as Mrs. Pell seems more to the point as the tough, calculating WASP, used to getting whatever she wants or what her money can always buy, including her daughter-in-law. Chris Dwan is perfectly cast as the youthful Perry. The play, directed by Jonathan Silverstein, needs some rethinking to loosen up the characters and make them more believable.

Old Boy runs off-Broadway at the Clurman Theatre on Theater Row, West 42nd Street, NYC. 212-239-6200

*Photo: Carol Rosegg

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