THEATER REVIEW: ‘Cocktail Hour’ mixes laughs with good libations

Theater Barn / “The Cocktail Hour”

WILL SOMEONE PLEASE give this woman her own sitcom?

Blazing red hair, blazing teeth, large blue-cool eyes and good delivery of cool, funny punch lines are enormous assets; and Meg Dooley has them all. Dress her in blazing turquoise, give her a blazing, sophisticated script and you probably have an updated, upscale Lucille Ball hit on your hands. (Actually, I am serious.)

The question is does this near-but-not-over-the-top character belong in this play? Director Phil Rice needed to decide whether to bring all the others in this very competent cast to match Dooley-style or to adjust hers to match more typical A. R. Gurney behaviors. Rice has not decided.

Despite the possibility of confusion with T. S. Eliot’s “The Cocktail Party,” (which Gurney’s play mentions, and which caught you, didn’t it?), this play could have no name other than “The Cocktail Hour.”

As one might expect, each character gets more lubricated by the moment–so that stories and truths can begin to emerge. The main character is a playwright. Playwright Gurney (not the play’s playwright, ha!) gets to make them all up. He atones for his playwriting mischief by giving each member of this WASP family some waspy, funny lines.

The play’s playwright, John (a character nicely shaped by actor Erik Derringer), moves from catatonic, one-word responses to a scotch-facilitated self and a “Dad, let me tell you how I really feel” climax. Dad (well-played by Steve King) remonstrates with his son about his (ahem) genital reference. That brings John to a naughty, uncharacteristic shout, “Balls, Balls! BALLS!”

And not a Lucille in sight.

In the end, the play’s playwright’s sister Nina gets to train the dogs, just as her heart desires. Favorite son Jigger (a character without an actor—he is just talked about) gets to build model ships rather than make a lot of money. Mom (Dooley) gets to explain why she neglected her son. (She was writing a bad novel with some good sex in it.) Dad gets a tantrum. And playwright Gurney gets revenge.

The moral of the story, story, story is—parents, if your son is likely to grow up to be a playwright, don’t neglect him.

Before the show and in between acts at the Theater Barn, one gets some great music chosen by director Rice. The set by Abe Phelps may be a bit more middle class than the parental Gurney family might have wished, but they’re busy in the play and can’t complain.

Did you get all that about the play’s playwright and the play’s playwright’s sister, etc.? No? My fault. See the play; you’ll figure it out.

Don’t forget, “The Cocktail Hour” is Theater Barn’s final play of the season. Call them at 518 794-8989.

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