Kenneth Lonergan earned his theatrical stripes with This Is Our Youth and cinematic ones with Analyze This, but with The Waverly Gallery, he seems to be bucking for demotion. Like Youth, the play appears to contain autobiographical elements, but here the subject is eld. Gladys Green is, like the Village art gallery she runs (into the ground), on her last legs. The gallery now harbors chiefly one rather self-deluded artist, Don, who also lives there, and garners no customers. Stumbling into senility, Gladys is albatross enough for three necks: that of her exasperated daughter, Ellen; that of her bewildered son-in-law, Howard Fine; and that of her excruciated grandson, Daniel, who, being also her next-door neighbor, is stuck with shepherding her around … as well as having to deliver the play’s less than sparkling narration.
Senility, here further furbished with near-deafness and a recklessly mismanaged hearing aid, has its grimly comic side, though the laughs it elicits tend to come from the wrong side of the mouth. And as the play turns gradually darker, Lonergan can’t find the right accents for the transition, or any novel insight by way of conclusion. We know that old age can be hell for both the person bearing its burden and those to whom he or she becomes a burden. But we get to know too little about the characters here to become truly involved. Why, for instance, can’t the seemingly not impecunious Fines find a nice old-age home for Gladys?
Eileen Heckart compellingly conveys the impairments of senectitude: the spotty mind, wayward hearing, croaking voice, and shuffling walk. Admirably, she manages to make Gladys as likable as she is irritating. Maureen Anderman and Mark Blum are just fine as the nerve-frayed Fines, and Anthony Arkin makes the most of the touchingly foolish painter. As Daniel, Josh Hamilton struggles valiantly to keep his eroding patience under at least partial control. Still, unaided by Scott Ellis’s pedestrian direction, the play lurches into extinction like a car running out of gas.