Sunday, March 6, 2011

'Black Tie': Things Fall Apart, WASP-Style

(Curtis' father) Daniel Davis, top, appears from the grave to advise his son (Gregg Edelman) regarding a seminal event in the family's history in "Black Tie." Photos by James Leynse.


Anglo Saxon Protestants, once at the forefront of American life, have lost some of their ascendancy. In A.R. Gurney’s new comedy, “Black Tie,” the dying WASP is already dead.

Daniel Davis is Curtis’ father, only identified as such and an apparition that Curtis (Gregg Edelman) consults on the eve of his son’s wedding. Curtis’ father is the ghost of WASPs past, and only Curtis can see him. He is seeing his father now because of nostalgia for a social order no longer entirely relevant.

“Black Tie,” a Primary Stages production on stage in an extended run through 27 March at 59E59, is a mild and pleasant familial anecdote.

Ari Brand (Teddy), Carolyn McCormick (Mimi), Elvy Yost (Elsie), Gregg Edelman (Curtis) and Daniel Davis (Curtis’ father) in "Black Tie."

Curtis hangs onto his father’s advice and some of the societal conventions it embodies, but the world of the latter has long ago begun to breakdown. Mimi (Carolyn McCormick), Curtis’ wife, though of the same class and background, is a liberal and progressive woman. She is having a much easier time of it.

Although wistful for the traditions so easily followed by his father’s generation and now passé, Curtis is not strictly a starchly-conservative and tradition-bound WASP. But some traditions die hard.

Curtis wants to commemorate his son, Teddy’s (Ari Brand), wedding by wearing black tie and tux to the rehearsal dinner as he feels his father would have done. Elsie (Elvy Yost), Mimi and Curtis’ daughter, is the family’s designated peacekeeper as the plans for the rehearsal dinner get more and more complicated.

Gregg Edelman (Curtis) and Carolyn McCormick (Mimi) are parents who have different reactions to an upcoming wedding in "Black Tie."

While much of what he advises is pleasantly sensible and inclusive, Curtis’ father doesn’t understand the intricate relationships in his grandchildrens’ lives. Not understanding, though, does not mean he is not prepared to accept that times change. Curtis, on the otherhand, is hurt that the rehearsal dinner is not his party anymore – it belongs to the new generation.

“Black Tie” boasts a fine cast with the exception of DD. Despite the sympathetic character he plays, he is grating. GE is ingratiating as Curtis, and CMcC gives a lively yet low-key performance.

Visit to learn more about “Black Tie.”

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