‘The Cocktail Hour’ at North Coast Rep
By Charlene Baldridge | Theater Review
The normal upper-middle-class childhood circa 1930s was spent in a loving home replete with mother and father. It was an era when the majority of Americans tended to stay put.
Many of our generation were born, grew up and remained in the same community all their lives. Others, like I, rolled around for a bit, following their work, their husbands, and at length, their dreams; settling at last in the far-flung elsewhere.
Such is the case in A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” which is set in upstate New York in the mid-1970s. Bradley and Ann’s three children (two seen, one unseen) have flown the coop or are about to do so, and that is a personal affront to their parents and their upbringing.
The comedy of manners had its world premiere in the far-flung elsewhere, precisely at the Old Globe Theatre in 1988, far from Broadway and far from Gurney’s lifelong teaching gig at M.I.T. The premiere was directed by then Artistic Director Jack O’Brien. I don’t intend to make comparisons, would just mention that the play was performed by Keene Curtis, Nancy Marchand, Bruce Davison and Holland Taylor.
At North Coast Repertory Theatre, Rosina Reynolds stages “The Cocktail Hour” in a fine, neatly directed production that stars an endearing company, comprising Michael Flynn as the patriarch, Bradley; Chris Petschler as his playwright son, John; Cristina Soria as his martini-prone wife, Ann; and Shana Wride as John’s sister, Nina, who has a predilection for dogs.
Lurking off stage is the unseen cook who spoils the roast and causes a protracted cocktail hour, and, in a nearby town, the couple’s other, favored son, Jigger, who is about to leave his lucrative job to go to California (!) to become a boat-builder.
“I’ve lost him!” Bradley dramatically proclaims in Act 2.
Seeing this brilliantly comic play about the decline of the hidebound WASP population (white Anglo-Saxon protestants, Gurney’s frequent topic) took me back to Balboa Park, eating sack lunches with the playwright known to his friends as “Pete,” who was much produced at the Globe in those days, and whose childhood was similar to mine. He’s truly a nice, clever and intelligent guy.
Marty Burnett’s set gives us some idea of the upper middle-class comfort of old money and established rituals. Elisa Benzoin’s two-piece, peach sweater and skirt set for Ann, allows a glimpse into the matriarch’s taste for elegance and observance of a certain ritual and code of dress required of everyone. Never mind that a constant parade of servants (they aren’t what they used to be) belies her apparent competency. Her affections and true caring seem a bit lacking.
The most reliable daily ritual is the cocktail hour.
As his parents are tippling away, John arrives from New York City, where he is in the publishing business. Tucked under his arm is his latest play, already scheduled for Broadway. He’s come to ask permission, or at the very least to let his father know that he is the subject of the play, titled, “The Cocktail Hour.”
This conflict, not the only one spread before us, is exacerbated by the lengthy cocktail hour. The play is excruciatingly funny as John’s more than tipsy relatives come to grips with their needs and personal desires and face the fact that their civilized way of life may be a relic of the past.
Each role is played impressively and each actor shows a deep understanding of character amidst a playing field where there may have once been love.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.