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Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Love and Money
Theatre Artists Studio
Review by Gil Benbrook | Season Schedule

Also see Gil's reviews of Big River and Othello


Patti Suarez and Jamal Peters
Photo by Mark Gluckman
With a career that lasted over 50 years and included dozens of works, from The Dining Room to the Pulitzer Prize finalist Love Letters, playwright A.R. Gurney was incredibly prolific and wrote many well regarded and frequently produced plays. Love and Money was one of his last pieces to get produced, premiering just two years before he passed away in 2017. While the play has its flaws, Theatre Artists Studio's Arizona premiere production is led by Patti Suarez who delivers a performance full of grace and humor as a woman making amends for her past.

Gurney is known for writing plays that focus on characters and situations specific to WASP culture and this play is no exception. However, Gurney's inclusion of an African-American character provides an interesting change and he also included several moments where the main character comments on the drawbacks of being a WASP.

The plot focuses on the very wealthy Cornelia Cunningham, who has made plans to give almost all of her money to charity as a way to atone and compensate for her family's past. She believes that money has brought harm to her family and that excessive wealth has led to a carefree and careless nature which resulted in her husband divorcing her shortly before he passed away as well as the early deaths of both of her children and the disillusionment of her two grandchildren. When her lawyer advises her of the possible legal implications that giving all of her money away can have, including the fact that her two grandchildren may contest it, he also makes her aware of a letter his firm received from a young man who claims to be the son of Cornelia's late daughter. When a young, charming and well-read African-American man shows up at Cornelia's house, she discovers it's the same man who wrote the letter. But is he a fake or is he really her grandson? And does the fact that he is black make his debatable insistence of lineage less of an issue to the sympathetic Cornelia who has started to question her past and the exclusive nature of being a WASP, and has become more inclusive of others and those less fortunate than her?

Gurney's play has hues of John Guare's Six Degrees of Separation, which Cornelia refers to in the play and which also focuses on a young black man who hobnobs with the wealthy and desires to be like them, and who may or may not be exactly who he says he is, though this play isn't as successful in effectively mixing comedy with social relevance. In Love and Money, we see how the danger of money has given this woman a new look at her life, especially in her feelings for those less fortunate, and Gurney introduces ideas that are relevant in the world we live in where so much focus has been on the benefits of being in the wealthy 1% verses the struggles of the poor. But then he changes gears and the piece turns into a mildly amusing comedy with little substance. He also incorporates several Cole Porter songs into the play as a way to comment on the action and the characters and uses a player piano in Cornelia's house as a means of providing authentic musical accompaniment. It is a bit odd that the three individuals who have never been to her home before almost immediately know how to use the piano to have it play a specific song they wish to hear and that all the characters know the lyrics to these lesser-known Porter tunes. "Make It Another Old-Fashioned Please" is probably the most familiar of the Porter tunes.

Director Carol MacLeod and her cast do their best in navigating the shifting tones and styles in the play, from drama to comedy and musical. As Cornelia, Patti Suarez is feisty, funny, and full of warmth. She beautifully embodies this strong woman who has realized late in life what she needs to do to try to make the world around her a better place and that she has the means to do her best to make it happen. Suarez is simply lovely in the part.

Jason Isaak and Jamal Peters are good as Harvey Abel and Walker "Scott" Williams, Cornelia's skeptical lawyer and potential grandson, respectively, though Peters could be a little less cocky to provide some nuance to his role and keep us guessing whether he's real or a fake. MacLeod ensures several of the jokes in the piece get big laughs with good comic pacing, especially from Judy Rollings, who has sharp timing and an impeccably dry delivery as Cornelia's long-standing, insufferable, no-nonsense maid Agnes. Shannon Clark is bright as Juilliard student Jessica who isn't as easily taken in by Scott's suave nature.

While there are some good jokes and laugh out moments, Love and Money, while charming and funny, is only mildly amusing with little dramatic intrigue. Still, any chance to see the always impressive Suarez and the charming Rollings on stage is worth it.

Love and Money, through May 19, 2019, at Theatre Artists Studio, 4848 East Cactus Road, Scottsdale AZ. Tickets are on sale at www.TheStudioPHX.org or by calling 602-765-0120

Director: Carol MacLeod
Set Design: Deborah Mather Boehm
Lighting Design: Stacey Walston
Sound Design: Tony Robinson

Cast:
Cornelia Cunningham: Patti Suarez
Harvey Abel: Jason Isaak
Agnes Munger: Judy Rollings
Walker "Scott" Williams: Jamal Peters
Jessica Worth: Shannon Clark


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