Reviewed by David Smith
The Burnside Players made a good choice in A.R.Gurney’s The Cocktail Hour, performed in the evocative ballroom of the Burnside Town Hall. Set in 1970, the play concerns a family of four whose middle-aged son has written a play, also The Cocktail Hour, which reveals a bit too much about them all.
Appropriately, the family members sip cocktails through the action. By references to snippets of the script lying before them, they confront the truth about their long-held feelings and experiences. The playwright, John (Aldo Longobardi), is the central character. He has long harboured a resentment of his dominating father, Bradley (Gary Harrison) and has exposed his father’s shortcomings in the soon-to-be-staged production. Whether it will see the stage at all comes into doubt.
Longobardi sustained his character very well. As the cocktails kept coming, and tongues loosened, he showed a keen sensitivity and dramatic skill in handling his family’s shortcomings and secrets, as well as his own. It was a cathartic journey for them all, but for John in particular.
As Bradley, Harrison was constant and convincing. He captured well the strengths and frailties of the aging patriarch. Jean Walker as his wife, Ann, carried the role with a brittle grace. She used her voice and stagecraft to great effect, most notably when under pressure from John, she revealed her own long-concealed attempt at novel writing.
Bronwyn Ruciak was both director and actor, playing the role of the daughter, Nina. As director she created a most suitable atmosphere, beginning before Act I with David Long playing the piano within the set. The well-directed cast used the limited space effectively, while the well-framed set was solid and uncluttered. Their ensemble work was tight and they maintained both the action and necessary subtle intensity through to the enigmatic end.