By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Having just turned 85 recently, John Guare has nothing left to prove as his six decades of playwriting, including such classics as The House of Blue Leaves and Six Degrees of Separation, speak volumes to talents. Still, hearing excerpts from many of his works, performed by some of the world’s greatest actors at the 92NY’s An Evening With John Guare on February 6, was a potent reminder of Guare’s humanity and humor.
The evening, produced by Tony Kushner, wasn’t just about the plays, it was about John Guare, especially his kindness towards other playwrights. Suzan Lori-Parks, Amy Herzog, Samuel D. Hunter, Kenneth Lonergan – along with Wallace Shawn and Stephen Adly Guirgis (both on video) spoke movingly about the encouragement they’ve received from Guare, sometimes in unexpected ways.
And what does it say about Guare that his friend Meryl Streep came down (dressed a la Guare but, she claimed, unable to mimic his patrician voice) to read an extraordinary essay that Guare wrote about the influence of Edward Albee on all of the playwrights who came after him. (The piece was written when Albee’s masterwork, Three Tall Women, premiered in London.)
Meanwhile, the many scenes from his works were presented without any background or introduction – making it a bit confusing for those unfamiliar with Guare’s work. Still, one quickly understood who these characters were — from the neurotic, battling analysands of Bosoms and Neglect (brilliantly embodied by Dylan and Becky Ann Baker); the unhappy couple at the center of Lydie Breeze (brought blazingly to life by another real-life couple, Elizabeth Marvel and Bill Camp), the former classmates momentarily reunited in Rich and Famous (a hilarious Linda Lavin and a touching Paul Dano); the wisecracking Father Shapiro (a superb Billy Eichner) from Chaucer in Rome; the unhappy teen Ronny (a wonderful Mike Faist) and his sad-sack mother Bananas (a heartbreaking Camryn Manheim) from The House of Blue Leaves; or the young con artist Paul “Poitier” (Corey Hawkins, recreating his triumphant performance from the last Broadway revival of Six Degrees of Separation.)
Musical interludes were also presented without any information, but even if one was not sure what song came from which show, it was thrilling to hear Oscar winner Ariana DeBose perform “Frightened of You” (from Landscape of the Body) and Ben Stiller croon “Pearls” (from Two Gentlemen of Verona).
Best of all, Guare came onstage at the end of the two-hour presentation to express his gratitude to everyone, most notably, his wife Adele. In those few minutes, it was impossible not to feel all the feels (as the kids say) — most notably the enormous love everyone on that stage (and many of us offstage) have for John Guare.