Waverly Place is a little street that humbly leads from Greenwich Village, across 6th Avenue to arrive at the grand northern border of Washington Square. Waverly Gallery is a small gallery at the humble end of the street. The story centres around gallery proprietor Gladys (played incredibly by the great Elaine May).
The play opens in a conversation between Gladys and her duty-bound grandson Daniel (well-played by rising star Lucas Hedges). After several repeated cycles and seemingly forgotten lines, we quickly realize that ageing Gladys’ faculties are starting to slip. And hence begins the emotional rollercoaster ride.
There really isn’t a weak moment for nearly 2 hours. This is classic dramatic theatre. There is the telling of past family members (“she was a nut”), the current family members coping with the changing circumstance and the inevitable conclusion we can see coming. There is even the quintessential ‘a stranger arrives’ in the form of aspiring-naive-not-great-painter (Michael Cera) giving us some fun comedic moments peppered throughout.
Elaine May holds court the first three quarters as the audience grows fonder and fonder of her, more and more empathetic, and finally anguished. She is fully enthralling. The performance is perfect. I personally didn’t get as emotionally wrenched as by Ellen Berstyn’s character in Requiem for a Dream, or Harvey Firestein’s mother in Torch Song Trilogy, though the playwright (Ken Lonergan) could have easily taken us there. I was secretly hoping he would, though he opted not to.
The unexpected gut-wrenching came from watching Gladys’ daughter (played by Joan Allen) trying to cope with her mother’s decline. I expect much of the theatre could instantly relate. While there were a few younger audience members (fans of Lucas Hedges and perhaps also Michael Cera), the audience was primarily the ‘wisened’ audience of Broadway… all increasingly faced with the reality of ageing, both in themselves and in caring for their parents.
It’s certainly Lucas Hedges’ year. He is currently starring in two critically-acclaimed movies (Boy Erased, Ben is Back), and now a co-star in a Broadway hit. He is always easy to watch and plays his role perfectly here. Unfortunately playing his role perfectly here means keeping his character slightly detached, humble like Waverly Place, so we can’t emotionally attach to the degree we can to Elaine May or Joan Allen. That didn’t stop all the selfie-seeking fans waiting for him after the show, which he generously posed with.
This is a great night of theatre. This type of play doesn’t normally do the musical circuit, and certainly not with Elaine or Lucas, so catch it on Broadway if you can. On until January 27, 2019.
The Waverly Gallery
John Golden Theatre
252 W 45th St
New York, NY TICKETS