Monday, March 7, 2016

Notes from Annie's Garden: A.R. Gurney's 'The Cocktail Hour' - Then and Now

By Annie Keefe
Associate Artist

The cast of 'The Cocktail Hour,' 1990 at Westport Country Playhouse.
I was so moved when I saw the picture Pat Blaufuss unearthed from the archives showing the cast of THE COCKTAIL HOUR when it had its Playhouse debut in 1990, because it reminded me yet again what a small and wonderfully connected family we share in this business.

From Left to Right – That’s Fritz Weaver, playing Bradley.  I worked with him at Long Wharf right around that time in a production of SONG AT TWILIGHT (A play seen in our 2014 season here at the Playhouse).  His girlfriend at the time came in on extremely short notice to cover for an actress who had to leave the production.  After a week working with her, I went into the dressing room one night and said to Fritz-‘You’re a fool not to marry that woman, she’s terrific’.  He looked at me like I had two heads.  Two months later I received a beautiful bottle of Port with a note saying he and Rochelle had gotten married, and it was all down to me shaking him out of his comfort zone.

He later appeared in 2000 in the early days of Joanne’s and my tenure at the Playhouse in Gurney’s ANCESTRAL VOICES once again with Elizabeth Wilson (third from the left playing Ann).

Liz Wilson died recently at 94.  She was one of the great ladies of the American theater.  She appeared with Joanne and Paul in their first Broadway Play, PICNIC, the show where Paul and Joanne met.  Mike Nichols used her 7 times in various projects.  You might remember her from Catch22 or The Addams Family.  I had the great pleasure of working with her several times at Long Wharf.  Kind and as funny as they come!

Reed Birney as Erik Blake in Steven Karam's
The Humans, currently on Broadway
Then there is Reed Birney (second from left, here playing John).  Reed worked on Joanne’s production of THE MEMBER OF THE WEDDING in 2005; he was a member of her informal play reading group for many years and he appeared in a couple of Script in Hand reading, including HARVEY as Elwood P. Dowd, and as the lead in CHAPTER TWO.  He’d currently appearing on Broadway in Steve Karam’s brilliant play THE HUMANS, and will surely get a Tony nomination for his work.

Finally, that’s Ann McDonough on the right (here seen playing Nina).  When I asked Ann to play the role of Ann, the mother in THE COCKTAIL HOUR, I was unaware that she had not only been in the play before, but that she had done it right here at the Playhouse.   She has done more Gurney plays than any actress I know, and this is the second time that she will have ‘graduated’ to another role in the same play.  Late last year she appeared in the Script in Hand reading of PAINTING CHURCHES, playing the mother opposite her real life husband, Jack Gilpin.  Many years earlier she had played the daughter in this play.  You might remember that the daughter in our production was played by her own daughter Betty Gilpin.

Cast of our upcoming Script in Hand
playreading of 'The Cocktail Hour'
That brings us to OUR terrific cast of THE COCKTAIL HOUR

 – yes, father of Betty and husband to Ann McDonough, will join us again to play the father/husband opposite his real life wife, ANN MCDONOUGH, who has now ‘graduated’ to the role of the mother/wife.  CLAIRE KARPEN, who was last seen on this stage in BEDROOM FARCE in 2015 will play Nina, and she will be joined by our own JAKE ROBARDS playing John.  Jake is the son of Jason Robards for whom the mainstage theatre is named, a veteran of 5 Script in Hand readings and a member of our Board of Trustees.

I can’t wait to see what this great group of interconnected actors will bring to our stage on Monday, March 14th when they gather to read THE COCKTAIL HOUR, written by our dear friend, member of our Artistic Advisory Council, writer of last year’s hit play LOVE AND MONEY and 2014 Playhouse Gala honoree – A.R. (Pete) Gurney!

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