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S.L. STAGE TO SERVE UP REGIONAL PREMIERE OF `THE COCKTAIL HOUR’

SHARE S.L. STAGE TO SERVE UP REGIONAL PREMIERE OF `THE COCKTAIL HOUR’

A.R. Gurney's "The Cocktail Hour," which recently completed successful runs in Los Angeles and New York, will have its regional premiere this week at the Broadway Stage.

The four-character comedy-drama is being directed by Broadway Stage artistic director William Sargent.The cast for the local production features four well-known performers: Logan Field and Gail Hickman as Bradley and Ann, an older couple accustomed to having their traditional and ritualistic evening cocktail hour, with Don Glover and Carolyn Wood as John, their son, and Nina, their neglected older daughter.

(The original cast included former Utahn Keene Curtis and Nancy Marchand as the parents, with Marchand winning an off-Broadway OBIE award for her performance, and Bruce Davison, currently featured in the film, "Longtime Companion," as John.)

Among the well-heeled residents of New England, the nightly cocktail hour is practically a sacred, set-in-concrete event. It's like high tea is to the British. It begins promptly at 6 p.m. in the living room, where all family members are expected to be present for drinks and pleasant conversation, and concludes on the dot of 7:30, when dinner is served.

However, during the particular cocktail hour in "The Cocktail Hour," the affluent family's upstate New York home is the scene of a few surprising and unsettling repercussions. John, a New York publisher and fledgling playwright, announces to his WASP-y parents that he has written a play - also called "The Cocktail Hour" - based on his memories of the tradition while he was growing up.

As the family gathers and the martinis flow, the audience meets Bradley, the aristocratic patriarch (who remarks, "You can't live without servants . . . civilization depends on them"); Ann, his sweet, patrician wife, and Nina, their daughter.

For 90 minutes, until the family moves to the dining room table, grievances are aired and family secrets revealed.

Brigham Young University professor and author Don Marshall saw "The Cocktail Hour" last year in New York City.

In a Deseret News article on Sept. 17, in which he assessed several Broadway and off-Broadway productions, he called the show "one of the best" of the season's off-Broadway offerings.

"It manages a delicate blend of the painful and the humorous from the first line to the last," Marshall said.

Clive Barnes of The New York Post called it "deliciously funny and touching," while Frank Rich of the New York Times, said "Gurney . . . at the top of his form" once again "claims John Cheever's territory for the stage."

Largely autobiographical, Gurney's characters live in a world of maids, country clubs and cocktails.

"No matter how adverse their circumstances, they make monumental efforts not to raise their voices. They are prime ulcer candidates, but they never let the strain spoil their backhand. And they all know how to mix the perfect martini - which helps make everything more bearable," wrote Alex Witchel in the New York Times Magazine, of Nov. 12, 1989, in an article reprinted in an edition of Performing Arts, when "The Cocktail Hour" was presented in Los Angeles.

"But these people are far from dull," Witchel notes. "Gurney's elegant, light touch with dialogue is as reassuring as it is entertaining; his banter is just a more refined version of what you tell your shrink."

Sylvie Drake of the Los Angeles Times said, "It is witty, literate, splendidly acted entertainment for lovers of the well-made linear play . . . top drawer drawing-room comedy."

And Bob Healy, critic for Los Angeles radio station KBIG, said, "The Cocktail Hour" is ". . . terrific . . . one not to miss!"

When the play first premiered during trial performances at the Old Globe in San Diego, it received luke-warm notices in the press, but audiences loved it.

Director Sargent notes that Gurney's play is about elegant people and the decline of the WASP-y set. The parents in the piece are both gracious and obsolete.

"It could be compared to `Uncle Vanya' in the way it addresses the decline of an upper class," said Sargent. "It punctures through the stretch limo, liberal" ways.

It's a play within a play within a play," he added.

Tom Viertel, one of the New York producers of "The Cocktail Hour," said the play recouped its $385,000 capitalization at the 399-seat Promenade Theatre in 16 weeks. This was faster than any play he and his partners had ever produced.

For ticket and reservation information, see the box accompanying this week's stage openings.