A dying tradition. Like the old New England dining rooms, which A. R. Gurney, Jr., also wrote about, the cocktail hour was a special time for East Coast Brahmins at day’s end. They could unwind, bond, and lubricate the appetite for the meal to come.
Bradley, a staunch upholder of the tradition, never drinks before six p.m. and never drinks after dinner. From his perspective, strict adherence to ritual has made his family a smashing success: his three children went to the finest schools and have respectable jobs and lives.
But, it turns out, they’re miserable.
John, the middle child, has written a play about his family. He has producers lined up and, since his father’s the central character, he needs to ask Bradley’s permission to stage it — just as Bradley’s preparing pre-prandial cocktails: scotch for himself; for wife Ann “just a splash” of white wine (which she’ll request at least four times); and club soda for John. Strong drink makes him tense.
Bradley misquotes famous authors and longs for the days of good servants. Case in point, the new cook — either Shelia Marie, Sharon, or something — has mangled a perfect pot roast. Dinner will be late, stretching the cocktail hour, inciting confrontations, revelations, and one of the most facile happy endings in theater history.
Like John, older sister Nina (who arrives late) and younger brother Jigger have status and security. But in the words of Joseph Campbell, they haven’t “followed their bliss.” Instead of riding the gravy train, they want to “put something back into the world.”
Incensed, Bradley blocks all exits from the status quo. There’s enough percolating here for high drama. John, convinced he’s a foundling, becomes distraught. So do Nina and Jigger, and maybe even Ann, the model wife of almost 50 years. But the playwright fakes a hand-off to tragedy at the end of Act One and lobs the ball to comedy of manners. The play will be about its own making — is John A.R. Gurney? And everyone will get exactly what they want, even a lovely, albeit belated, repast of lamb chops and various peas.
If you don’t count that the actors are impervious to alcohol — they remain fairly sober throughout — the North Coast Rep gives The Cocktail Hour a good go on Marty Burnett’s meticulously ordered, soft pastel living room.
Director Rosina Reynolds keeps the pace crisp and the scenes sharp. Her cast, stuck with near one-note characters, makes the playwright’s carefully plotted tiffs and squabbles feel spontaneous.
Wearing Elisa Benzoni’s class-conscious outfits, J. Michael Flynn (Bradley), Cristina Soria (Ann), Chris Petschler (John), and Shana Wride (most engaging as Nina) entertain until the cows come home and, we discover, are still sacred after all.
Playing through October 2