×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Broadway Review: Kenneth Lonergan’s ‘The Waverly Gallery’ With Lucas Hedges

With:
Elaine May, Lucas Hedges, Joan Allen, Michael Cera, David Cromer.

In 1989, Greenwich Village was still the kind of place where a nice old lady like Gladys Green could own and operate an art gallery for unknown artists who never sold a painting to impoverished patrons who never came. Played with great warmth, sensitivity, and good humor by the legendary Elaine May in the Broadway production of Kenneth Lonergan’s “The Waverly Gallery,” Gladys was once a practicing attorney with plenty of clients and a busy social life. These days, she’s happy just to have an occasional lost soul drop by.

Don Bowman is one of those lost souls. Played with sweet cluelessness, if a certain degree of hesitancy, by Michael Cera, Don is an endearingly untalented painter who seems to have no idea that Gladys is a bit, well, out of it. Her verbal hesitancy (the nouns keep escaping her) and general vagueness don’t seem to register at all with him. What does register loud and clear is her willingness to mount a show of his work.

“I like helping young people,” says Gladys. “All they want is a little chance. But they don’t have anyone to help them.” Yes, she really is that nice, and Don rewards her kindness with the company she craves. “This whole thing is kind of like a dream come true for me,” he poignantly exclaims at his opening, at which not a soul shows up. “I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life.”

Okay, so the poignancy is a bit heavy-handed, even under the thoughtful direction of Lila Neugebauer. But the sentiments are genuine (Lonergan has said that he wrote the play about his own aging grandmother) and the emotions they raise are potent. Truth to tell, this is a hard play to watch — like a play that opens with a deathly ill person and doggedly follows that person to the grave. In fact, if they gave a prize for Most Depressing Play of the Season, this one would win in a walk.

To be fair, there are moments of relief when the tight focus on Gladys at the gallery expands to include her daughter, Ellen Fine, played by Joan Allen (lucky us!), and her second husband, Howard Fine (David Cromer, the perfect match). Scenes at their apartment on Wednesday nights, the night when Gladys comes to dinner, gives the audience a much-needed break by letting us know that someone is looking out for the old lady. Even her grandson, Daniel Reed (Lucas Hedges), who narrates events directly to the audience, earns our affection because of his concern for his grandmother.

In following the trajectory of Gladys’s decline, Lonergan is also tracking the decline of the Village as a tight-knit neighborhood where people looked out for one another. “The whole neighborhood is changing,” Gladys keeps saying, not realizing that she’s the one going who’s going through the most dramatic changes of all. The changes are real, but gradual, and May is most adept in noting the incremental losses that are slowly erasing Gladys’s personality.

Whenever she gets the chance, the actress is also happy to show us that Gladys is still something of a wit. Her son-in-law’s insensitive observation that “it’s no fun getting old” provokes the whiplash retort: “Why do you always say that to me? Nobody wants to hear that! That’s not a helpful thing to say.” May makes a meal out of painfully funny moments like that.

Gladys’s family, who describe themselves as “liberal Upper West Side atheistic Jewish intellectuals,” are further unnerved by her deterioration because it offers intimations of their own mortality. After checking in with his own parents, Howard is taken aback: “So things are good all over with the old folks, right?” he says. “If you don’t lose your marbles and one of you doesn’t die young, you get old together and torture each other to death.”

There’s no lack of sympathy from this family, although Daniel seems to be most moved by watching his grandmother slip away. “Her mind was smashed to pieces, and the person she used to be hadn’t really been around for a long time,” he observes. “But the pieces were still her pieces.”

That’s nice writing, if difficult to hear and fully absorb in a play that’s guaranteed to tear you apart — piece by piece, as Lonergan might put it.

Broadway Review: Kenneth Lonergan's 'The Waverly Gallery' With Lucas Hedges

Golden Theater; 787 seats; $149 top. Opened Oct. 25, 2018. Reviewed Oct. 19. Running time: 2 HOURS 15 MINUTES.

Production: A presentation by Scott Rudin, Eli Bush, Columbia Live Stage, Eric Falkenstein, Suzanne Grant, James L. Nederlander, Universal Theatrical Group, John Gore Organization, Len Blavatnik, Peter May, Stephanie P. McClelland, Benjamin Lowy, Al Nocciolino, Patty Baker, Jamie deRoy, Wendy Federman, Barbara H. Freitag, Heni Koenigsberg, David Mirvish, True Love Productions, Executive Producers Joey Parnes, Sue Wagner, & John Johnson of a play in two acts by Kenneth Lonergan.

Creative: Directed by Lila Neugebauer. Sets, David Zinn; costumes, Ann Roth; lighting, Brian MacDevitt; sound, Leon Rothenberg; projections, Tal Yarden; production stage manager, Charles Means.

Cast: Elaine May, Lucas Hedges, Joan Allen, Michael Cera, David Cromer.

More Legit

  • Annette Bening

    Star-Studded Cast to Perform Live Reading of the Mueller Report

    Haven’t perused the Mueller report yet? A star-studded cast, including Annette Bening, Kevin Kline, and John Lithgow, can read it to you. For one night only on Monday, June 24, stars will perform a live reading of passages from the Mueller report for “The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts,” Robert Schenkkan’s [...]

  • Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to

    Paula Vogel Never Expected 'Indecent' to Be This Timely

    When Paula Vogel began writing “Indecent” in 2010, she had no idea how resonant its exploration of immigration woes, anti-Semitism and homophobia in the past century would become in the current political climate. The Tony-nominated play, running until July 7 at L.A.’s Ahmanson Theater, traces the theatrical history of 1907 Yiddish play “God of Vengeance” [...]

  • Bitter Wheat review

    West End Review: John Malkovich in David Mamet's 'Bitter Wheat'

    How soon is too soon? Hardly a year had passed since allegations against Harvey Weinstein were made public before David Mamet announced that his satire on the subject, “Bitter Wheat,” was set to star John Malkovich in the West End. Six months later, we’re sat watching a corpulent, super-rich movie mogul — Barney Fein (cough, [...]

  • Batman Julia Roberts Spike Lee

    Batman, Julia Roberts, Spike Lee Among 2020 Walk of Fame Honorees

    Batman, Julia Roberts and Spike Lee are among the names selected to be inducted into the 2020 Walk of Fame. The full list of honorees was announced by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce’s Walk of Fame Selection Committee via an exclusive livestream by Variety. Chosen from hundreds of nominees during a selection meeting in June, [...]

  • Tracy Letts

    Tracy Letts' Comedy 'The Minutes' to Hit Broadway in 2020

    Playwright Tracy Letts’ comedy “The Minutes” will hit the Broadway stage in Feb. 2020. “The Minutes,” written by actor, producer and playwright Letts, is a comedy taking a look at the current state of American politics through the lens of a small, fictional town called Big Cherry. The play is set in a city council [...]

  • Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer

    Jamie Forshaw Tapped as Executive Producer of MWM Live (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jamie Forshaw has been named executive producer of MWM Live, Variety has learned. The theater veteran most recently served as VP of production for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Really Useful Group. In his new role, he will oversee MWM Live’s slate of stage productions with an emphasis on expanding the division’s work on Broadway. MWM Live [...]

  • A Midsummer Night's Dream review

    London Theater Review: 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'

    “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” can be many things. There are earthy “Dreams,” airy “Dreams,” saucy “Dreams” and sweet “Dreams.” It’s Shakespeare’s most malleable play. Nicholas Hytner’s new staging strives to set itself apart, plunging its immersive audience into a festival-style fairy kingdom and casting the ethereal, white-blonde Gwendoline Christie (fresh off “Game of Thrones”) as [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content