We gave it a B
One hotel room, 10 characters, five simultaneous subplots, one night: If it weren’t for the glaring lack of British accents, you’d swear The Wayside Motor Inn was an Alan Ayckbourn play. Of course, the smiling photo of 83-year-old A.R. Gurney on the Playbill cover is another giveaway. You know you’re at Off Broadway’s Pershing Square Signature Center to see a revival of a 1978 work by America’s most prolific dramatist, who in 2013 turned out play No. 53. But the interwoven construction is straight out of Ayckbourn, the indefatigable 75-year-old Englishman who’s penned 78 full-length plays himself. And that’s a fine place to be.
Gurney fans may feel a little displaced for a couple other reasons. The setting is Boston not the playwright’s usual haunts in Buffalo, N.Y., or its environs. And the motel’s denizens—empty-nest seniors Frank and Jessie (Jon DeVries and Lizbeth Mackay), oily sales rep Ray (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and wisecracking waitress Sharon (Jenn Lyon), and more—aren’t his usual WASP subjects. It just might be the most un-Gurney Gurney play you’ll ever see—which makes Wayside all the more captivating. (On a related note, his late ’80s two-character hit Love Letters begins performances on Broadway Sept. 13.)
Gurney very thoughtfully divides the stage time (and plot lines) relatively equally among his 10 motel dwellers. We learn just enough about each of them to be intrigued—why can’t overbearing dad Vince (Marc Kudisch) lay off his kid Mark (Will Pullen) already?—but not enough to grow attached. Will horny college students Phil (David McElwee) and Sally (Ismenia Mendes) last beyond this one booze- and grass-filled night? Will warring couple Andy (Kelly AuCoin) and Ruth (Rebecca Henderson) reconcile? Will Frank’s heart hold out? Perhaps Gurney knows…but after two hours, we’re pretty much ready to check out. B