A.R. Gurney is back! After last fall’s horrific modern-day biblical, um, comedy Heresy, the 83-year-old playwright and unofficial historian of WASP American life has returned to Off-Off-Broadway’s Flea Theater (and returned to form) with Family Furniture. It’s an old-fashioned, 1950s-set gin-on-the-rocks drama, and it’s a pure delight.
For his 53rd play, Gurney (The Dining Room, Love Letters) has returned to his beloved Buffalo, N.Y., or at least very close to Buffalo, to a summer cottage on the Canadian shore of Lake Erie. While mom Claire (Carolyn McCormick) shops for slipcovers and sneaks off for not-so-secret liaisons with a family friend, dad Russell (Peter Scolari) doles out wisdom to his brainy college-age children, Nick (all-American charmer Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and Peggy (Ismenia Mendes), who are on break from Williams and Vassar, respectively. After all, father knows best — particularly when it comes to his little girl’s love life and to pouring drinks for cocktail hour.
The casting of Keenan-Bolger (best known as the plucky Crutchie in the original cast of Broadway’s Newsies) opposite Scolari couldn’t be more inspired; the resemblance is uncanny. And TV vet Scolari — so often cast on stage in brash, hammy roles (see: Lucky Guy, Magic/Bird) — has never been better. With his stiff-lipped emotion and aw-shucks grin, his Russell would be right at home alongside throwback sitcom patriarchs such as Ozzie Nelson and Ward Cleaver.
Some business with Nick’s pretentious Bennington College girlfriend, Betsy (Molly Nordin), goes on a bit too long; there’s only so much mileage you can get out of Hamlet as a punch line. And Betsy, as Nick’s parents comment many times, is a bit much. All the better to show how repressed and buttoned-up our central foursome is, perhaps. But gosh darn it, they’re still a nifty little family. Now…is it time for cocktail hour? B+
(Tickets: TheFlea.org or 212-226-2407)