Love's Labors Lost

A.R. Gurney is famous for writing middlebrow off-Broadway plays in which well-to-do WASPs comically mourn the passing of their cherished way of life. Past Gurney bromides examined such hallowed American myths as the old-boy network (The Old Boy, presented a few years back by the Director's Theatre in Boulder), the midlife crisis (Sylvia, last season's runaway hit at the Denver Center Theatre Company) and the decline of genteel tradition (The Dining Room, now on stage at Littleton's Town Hall Arts Center). Although many of Gurney's insights into contemporary life prove true enough, some of his madcap-with-a-moral plays cross over into the realm of boob-tube vapidity. In fact, though entertaining and thought-provoking, Gurney's Later Life, now being presented by the Aurora Fox Theatre, occasionally resembles a slow-motion collision between a Hallmark Hall of Fame special, a Love Boat rerun and an Oprah episode.

The ninety-minute intermissionless play takes place on the terrace off an apartment in a high-rise overlooking Boston Harbor. We're introduced to a well-heeled and recently divorced banker, Austin (Joe Marshall), and his long-lost love, Ruth (Annie Gavin), herself a gullible veteran--or hardened victim, take your pick--of four well-intentioned yet hopelessly doomed trips to the altar. As the two dredge up memories of their youthful meeting on the isle of Capri, a steady stream of party guests wander onto the patio and offer quirky observations about love in the Nineties. All of the minor characters are portrayed by a fine pair of comic chameleons, Dutch Shindler and Kathryn Peterson. There's Nancy, a pantsuited, butch matron with exotic tastes; Duane, a techno-nerd who refers to his marriage in arcane computer terms ("I'm learning that women like to be put in their own special subdirectory," he says); and Ted and Esther, a hideous Texan couple. In addition to providing some welcome comic relief from Ruth and Austin's soapy banter ("We were making a connection, and we shouldn't let anything get in the way," gurgles Ruth after one untimely interruption), Shindler and Peterson's cavalcade of misfits also serves to remind everyone of the pitfalls of dead-end relationships and entrenched routine.

To their credit, both Gavin and Marshall convey their characters' mutual attraction as well as their shared trepidation about romance. Gavin, in particular, locates a wellspring of desire within Ruth that swells with anticipation when Austin seems willing to take the plunge but subsides once the stodgy bachelor admits that he's lived most of his life with a life preserver around his emotions: "When you die, you'll probably say, 'Excuse me,'" ruefully observes Ruth. And even though Marshall's studied announcer voice sometimes belies his character's underlying vitality ("I was a horny bastard," Marshall intones with about as much savoir faire as a displaced weatherman relaying hog futures), the able performer manages to articulate the foibles of a middle-aged man who, sadly enough, maintains his belief that he's too old to sweep anyone off her feet. Later Life might be predictable and superficial, but director Ruth Seeber and her animated performers succeed in delivering a mildly amusing commentary about smart women, foolish men and life's infinite array of choices.


Later Life, through February 6 at the Aurora Fox Theatre, 9900 East Colfax, 303-361-2910.

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Jim Lillie

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