Kate Burton and Bobby Steggert in The Grand Manner
Editor's note: We're thrilled to welcome Alan J. Miller to Theasy. This review originally ran on Alan's blog "A Seat on the Aisle".
The Grand Manner, A.R. Gurney's partially autobiographical but mostly fanciful reminiscence of his meeting in 1948 with Katherine Cornell (Kate Burton) and her husband, Guthrie McClintic (Boyd Gaines) is now playing at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. The character of Pete (Bobby Steggert) is the stand-in for Gurney. This is a small show with but four characters: Ms. Cornell, Mr. McClintic, Pete, and Ms. Cornell's companion/assistant/secretary and presumed lover, Gertrude Macy (Brenda Wehle). It runs just 90 minutes with no intermission.
Those four characters are more than sufficient to tell this slight tale and 90 minutes is more than enough time in which to do it. In the preview performance I attended, all four did a fine job in their respective roles but their performances, frankly, were not enough to sustain my interest. That was not their fault but was a reflection of the shortcomings of the play itself. There is no conflict, no real dramatic impact to this play and nothing to engage the viewer on any visceral level. Rather, the play is a self-referent and slightly pretentious snapshot of Ms. Cornell, the greatest actress of her time, behaving in "the grand manner" employed in the theatre of that era, both on stage and off.
The production includes the timeworn structure of a play (Antony and Cleopatra) within a play, but when you peel away its several layers, there is no real core there. It also includes today's seemingly obligatory references to lesbianism (Ms. Cornell's) and homosexuality (Mr. McClintic's) and while a case might be made that Mr. McClintic's sexual orientation had something to do with the play's plot, the allusion to Ms. Cornell's orientation seemed gratuitous and merely intended to titillate.
(The Grand Manner plays at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street, through August 1st. Performances are Tuesday at 8pm, Wednesday at 2pm and 8pm, Thursday and Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2 pm 8pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $80-$85 and are available at telecharge.com or by calling 212.239.6200. For more information visit lct.org.)