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Paulanne Simmons

Getting Married in the 21st Century

"Black Tie"
Directed by Mark Lamos
Primary Stages
59E59 Theaters
59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison avenues
Opened Feb. 8, 2011
Tues. & Wed. at 7pm, Thur. & Fri. at 8pm, Sat. at 2pm and 8pm, Sun. At 3pm. Special Wed. matinee Feb. 16 at 2pm
Tickets: $60
Closes March 20, 2011
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Feb. 5, 2011

In the interests of full disclosure let me say that my son was married last summer, and my husband and I hosted the rehearsal dinner. So it should come as no surprise that A.R. Gurney's "Black Tie" at times brought tears of pain and laughter to our eyes.

In many ways it seemed that Gurney touched on the very same emotions many parents feel as their children become adults: nostalgia for their own youth, confusion over changing values, happiness and relief that the children have finally grown up.

The play is set in a room of a not very elegant hotel in the Adirondacks (this is a destination wedding). Its warn-out furniture and cheap coziness will be familiar to anyone who has ever vacationed in upstate New York. Kudos to set designer John Arnone.

And speaking of kudos, director Mark Lamos definitely deserves his own round of applause for the excellent way he keeps this play moving and the surprises coming.

Gregg Edelman plays Curtis, the father of the groom, a middle-aged man who calls on the ghost of his own deceased father (Daniel Davis) to guide him during this important time. His father offers excellent advice, based on 60-year-old WASP customs (remember this is a Gurney play). However, Curtis takes much of what his father says quite seriously. He has found his inner traditionalist and wants nothing more than to appear at the rehearsal dinner dressed in his father's (altered) tuxedo.

In the meantime, Curtis's daughter, Elsie (the excellent Elvy Yost), keeps coming into the hotel room informing her parents of the latest antics of the younger members of the wedding party: rearranging place settings, swimming nude in the hotel pool.

Curtis's wife, Mimi (Carolyn McCormick), is far more willing to adjust to the 21st century, but she never seems to have a clear understanding of the issues involved. In many ways she is the most expendable character in the play.

Curtis's father fares far better. Many of his views may be outdated, but, in Davis's capable hands, his essential humanity and civility shine forth as beacons of light to a generation that will send text messages in the middle of a theatrical performance. (And all his tips on how to deliver a speech are perfectly correct.)

Elsie's reports of the bride and groom's shenanigans give the audience the impression that Teddy is a callow youth who probably doesn't care much about his parents. When Teddy finally appears, the audience is quickly disabused. Ari Brand makes Teddy far more sincere than ridiculous. The only question is why he is marrying such an immature young lady.

"Black Tie" is so well written and performed audiences may not notice that the demands and resentments of the bride-to-be and her overwhelming self-involvement (she secretly agrees to have her former husband perform standup comedy with the help of his gay lover) do not predict happy outcomes for this marriage.

Perhaps Gurney is planning on a sequel, Black Tie: the Divorce.

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