“Ancestral Voices”

By Irene Backalenick

Playwright A. R. Gurney justifies his “Ancestral Voices” as a “hybrid” piece -- a category which would seem to be appropriate to our own chaotic era. In developing the piece, Gurney found that it did not work as a novel or a play. But he felt that it could take form as “part play and part narrative, designed to be read aloud by five actors.” So he explains in program notes for the show now at the Music Theatre of Connecticut.

 

The problem is that “Ancestral Voices” does not represent Gurney at his best. Granted that, to some degree, those characteristic Gurney traits come through. Typical is the shock effect of one character’s misbehavior in an upper-class society governed by proper etiquette. Once again, this Gurney work is set in Buffalo, New York, within an upper-class WASP family. But this particular piece is too scattered, too trivial. One longs for such Gurney mini-masterpieces as “The Dining Room” or “The Cocktail Hour.”

 

Yet Music Theatre of Connecticut has bravely taken on the piece, under Kevin Connors’ usual skilled direction. The piece moves forward at a good clip, and, as usual, the intimate MTC atmosphere is supportive.

 

But the piece itself defeats these efforts as characters read from the script. One has the feeling that the players have not sufficiently familiarized themselves with their roles, even for a successful reading.

 

What is the story about? Buffalo’s upper-class WASP world, of course. Grandma, matriarch of the family, has run off with another man. Grandpa is left stranded, bitter, shocked. Shocked also is daughter Jane and son-in-law Harvey. Every one is told to refer to the new man ensconced in Grandma’s life as “Uncle Roger.” It is all seen through the eyes of the naive young grandson Eddie, who serves as narrator.

 

Five actors have taken on the reading -- Marty Bongfeldt, John Flaherty, John Little, Michael McGurk, and Jo Anne Parady. Particularly effective are Little and Parady as the grandparents, with performances which have the potential for being top-notch.

 

In all, “Ancestral Voices” -- whatever compensations are there -- will not be included in our scrapbook of memorable MTC moments.

 

This review also appears on nytheaterscene.com

 

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