Review: ‘The Cocktail Hour’ is a delightful comedy
By Betty Mohr Theatre Reviewfirstname.lastname@example.org March 7, 2012 2:50PM
David Boettcher and Kelly Anne Clark star in Illinois Theatre Center's production of "The Cocktail Hour."
‘THE COCKTAIL HOUR’
◆ Through March 18
Performances take place at
8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.
◆ Illinois Theatre Center,
371 Artists Way, Park Forest
◆ Tickets, $22 for Fridays-Saturdays and $20 at all other times
◆ (708) 481-3510; ilthctr.org
Updated: April 10, 2012 10:41AM
A play about the cocktail hour, that time when upper-crust families get together in preparation for dinner, requires more than just alcohol.
In order for that kind of intimate drama to work, it requires a special ensemble that harmonizes to perfection.
Thankfully, the Illinois Theatre Center has found a special cast of players whose swift repartee comes across like musical precision in this engaging production.
Indeed, that’s why AR Gurney’s 1988 drama about a family at a crossroads rings so true.
“The Cocktail Hour,” directed with subtle grace by Etel Billig, takes place in Buffalo, N.Y. (the playwright’s hometown), in the mid-1970s.
John has returned home to tell his family that he has written a play about them and wants their permission to have it produced.
Of course, Bradley, the father, believing he will be portrayed in a bad light, wants none of it.
Ann, the mother, isn’t too keen on it either.
After all, what would people who know the family think? She wants John to write a book instead.
John’s sister Nina isn’t too happy about his play as well. But she doesn’t like the play because she has only a minor supporting role in it.
As the family waits for dinner, being prepared by an incompetent cook, secrets bubble to the surface.
John believes his father never loved him and wants to know why.
Nina wants to move to Cleveland to be around dogs, and the mother has a long-buried secret of her own.
When John’s brother Jeeter calls to tell the father he is moving to California to build boats, the human pyrotechnics explode.
It all comes together with honesty and delightful comedy because of powerful portrayals in which actors interact with each other to perfection.
Peter Robel is terrific as John, the young playwright (Gurney’s alter ego) torn between love for his art and his family.
Robel gives a touching and sensitive portrayal of a son trying to control very strong emotions.
Kelly Anne Clark delivers wonderful comedic moments as Nina. Her heartfelt affinity for dogs is very funny, even for those of us who love canines.
Jean Roberts is terrific as the prim and proper mother who wants to protect her nest from the gossip of others and to keep her brood together.
Yet, the highlight performance is that of David Boettcher.
His portrayal of the father is so seamless that it looks as though he was born to play the part.
Boettcher plays the head of the family with charming relish, and his turn of phrase at the end of the show took the audience by joyful surprise.
“The Cocktail Hour” is Gurney at his best, and ITC’s gem of a production proves that the theater and its exceptional ensemble are, with this show, also at their best.
Betty Mohr is a local free-lance writer.