Will the rich dowager be fooled by the tall, handsome and, in her WASP world, exotic Black con man who has a lot of smooth dance moves? That is the question.
Cornelia, a wealthy WASP dowager (emphasis on WASP is Gurney’s) is closing down her house with all its rich furnishings (great set by Michael Yeargan) to move to some sort of elder living which she with vivacious irony refers to as a “nursing home.”
Cornelia’s stuffed shirt young attorney, Harvey, on hand for financial arrangements, is trying to fulfill his fiduciary duties by deterring her from giving away all her money to charity when another threat to good financial planning arrives on the scene in the person of a young Black man who calls himself “Scott” and who claims to be the son of Cornelia’s deceased daughter: this “new found” grandson is here looking for big money.
We know “Scott’s” a con man from his transparent lies, so do Harvey and Cornelia’s down-to-earth one-of-the family style house maid, Agnes. “Scott’s” elaborate inventions to save his story constitute the play’s jokes. But what about Cornelia? Is she so yearning for a live grandson that she’s blind to his dishonesty — though otherwise she’s intact and sharp as a razor.
Meanwhile, Jessica, a young Asian music student, arrives to check out the player piano Agnes is planning to donate to Julliard (does Julliard really want a player piano?). Accompanied by the piano, Jessica sings Cole Porter (identified as signature WASP composer though, hey, Catholics — even Jews, Muslims, and Others — are known to love Cole Porter). By the way, in contrast to Gurney, I don’t think heavy drinking is a limited to WASPs either. Anyhow, the more Jessica dismisses “Scott,” the more he likes her.
And so it goes toward a feel good resolution in which those who are uptight loosen up, WASPS turn out to be as nice as everybody else, multi-racially and multi-ethnically speaking, America’s in great shape, and money can further good outcomes — that is if there’s a fairy godmother around like Cornelia.
Maureen Anderman holds the stage well with a typical characterization of a wealthy dowager, and Pamela Dunlap’s flat comic delivery as Agnes, the Maid who’s been there forever, is amusing. Joe Paulik does what he can with as the generic stuffed-shirt attorney.
But why, with all the brilliantly talented young performers in New York City, was Gabriel Brown cast as “Scott?? He imitates a Black man playing a cool Black man with good dance moves but doesn’t create a character. And why, with all the marvelous young singers looking for jobs in theater, was Kahyun Kim cast as Jessica? Her main job here was to sing Cole Porter which she did in a thin, strained voice, nowhere up to the task. As for the “chemistry” and burgeoning romance between Jessica and Scott – forget it.
If you see this play, you won’t be sorry because Gurney has a talent for making you feel you’re being pleasantly entertained, but you don’t need to see it. Signature Theater has much better things to do than produce this sitcom.
Love & Money plays at the Signature Theater on West 42nd Street, Manhattan’s Theater Row, through October 4, 2015.