Monday, June 17, 2013
Theater review: Water Tower’s production of Black Tie plants seeds of skepticism toward contemporary values
Ironically, the script's iconoclasm develops in its questioning contemporary values' laxity.
ADDISON A.R. Gurney’s Black Tie is a relaxed, amusing discourse on the difference between trendiness and tradition, arrogance and cachet. Curtis is dressing for his only son’s (Teddy’s) rehearsal dinner, when his father’s ghost appears. Throughout the play, his dad advises him of the advantages of propriety over impulse. Black Tie is by no means stiff. The departed patriarch is not a smoother version of a dolt, say, like (ugh!) Denny Crane. The implication is made over and over that Curtis is inheriting some of his dad’s worst traits. Sometimes ghost-father (John S. Davies) verges on the pompous, but as the play progresses, his viewpoint feels more and more enlightened. At times Black Tie appears to be debating class struggle, but Gurney complicates this issue. Teddy is marrying a woman whose parents are mixed-race, the wedding is being held at a 3 Star Resort, and everyone (with varying degrees of tact) is giving Curtis grief because he wants to wear a formal attire to toast Teddy’s marriage.
If anything, Teddy’s mother (Marcia Carroll) dad (Stan Graner) and sister (Katherine Bourne) make a determined effort to validate liberal credentials, bending over backwards to accommodate the demands of everyone involved. Which I suppose is Gurney’s point. The bride confronts Teddy (Jordan Brodess) the day before the wedding, calling his parents phonies. Her gay ex-husband wants to do a comedy set at the rehearsal dinner (he’s already alerted The New York Times). This will rob Curtis of the opportunity to make his speech (surely a dad’s cherished moment) and if he refuses, he’ll seem selfish, intolerant, and a serious buzz kill. Similar situations (mostly anecdotal) arise throughout the comedy : an impromptu skinny dipping party, Teddy flashes his fiancée (in public), the bridesmaids switch the seating cards to suit their preferences. There’s something to be said for spontaneity, but sometimes, the “offending parties” ignore how their actions affect others. It’s always easy to dismiss any objections as compulsive or “anal.”
None of this is tortured or volatile. There are strong, genuine, warm moments and the tone is decidedly casual. We must give Gurney props for avoiding didacticism or easy answers. This 90-minute odyssey ponders the all-too-common confusion between pretentiousness and sophistication. When Curtis decides, at the end of the show, he will wear a sport coat instead, it’s to spare the feelings of anyone who might feel underdressed. Now. You might speculate that being this big, blow-out celebration, who’s going to care what anybody wears? Or, that a man might have the right to look spiffy at his own son’s marriage. Gurney, quite intentionally I think, leaves these questions for us to consider long after we’ve seen Black Tie. He’s planted seeds of skepticism in an age where character and respect are often considered a nuisance. Who would have imagined that this would make him an iconoclast?
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
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