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The St. Thomas Players invite you to pay a visit during cocktail hour. That is, during their production of A.F. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” now playing in the Florence Busby Corriher Theater at Catawba College.
There’s nothing like a few drinks to really get a conversation flowing, sometimes a little too freely. As the family characters in this sly comedy partake in this “sacred” family ritual, the cocktail hour, which becomes longer when dinner is ruined by incompetent help, the audience is treated to clever quips and a Pandora’s box of released repressions. “There’s nothing more dangerous than a lengthy cocktail hour” we’re told later in the play.
The setting is the family’s upstate New York home, during their daily time of martinis and conversation. John, a semi-successful playwright, has written a play, also called “The Cocktail Hour,” obviously based on his proper, upper-class family, and especially his emotionally distant father. He has come to seek his parents’ permission to stage the autobiographical work.
His father, Bradley, is defensive, and his mother, Ann, worried, without having read their son’s work. Bradley is certain the play ridicules him, and he begs John to abandon its production, even offering to pay him off.
Ann, not wanting to see all that hard work go to waste, suggests he turn it into a book. Books are more private, quieter.
John’s sister, Nina, is irritated because she doesn’t feel her character has a big enough part, appearing only in a supporting role.
An unseen character in the play who plays a prominent role in the story is younger brother, “Jigger.” It’s not explained why he has a vaguely liquor-related nickname, but it becomes quickly apparent that he’s the father’s favorite.
When there are only four actors to handle a dialogue-driven work such as this, a strong, experienced cast is required, and that’s what this production has. Len Clark as Bradley, Mary Ann McCubbin as Ann, Shawn Van Wallendael as John, and Heather Wilson as Nina all deserve accolades. They looked and acted like a real family, their timing and chemistry excellent.
The set deserves mention as well. It has, by all appearances, the look of a well-appointed parlor with gleaming woodwork and floors, antiques, piano and fireplace. With the intimate setting afforded by the Corriher Theater, the audience feels as if they are seated in the family’s living room, probably on a divan.
If you want to analyze “The Cocktail Hour” for profundity, you can begin with the play’s reference to Coleridge who said the three greatest plots were “Oedipus Rex,” “Tom Jones” and “Volpone.” This play delves into all those themes: conflict between father and son, questions of parentage and proclamation of impending death and inheritance.
There’s plenty of material for Freudian analysis as John tries to work through his personal problems, both on paper with his play and through dialogue with his family.
And you can contemplate its social commentary and statement of how the affluence of the upper class is built upon the backs of the servant class.
Or you can ignore all those things and just enjoy watching the family unravel and recover with witty repartee. Clever writing, a strong cast, admirable leadership of director Claudia Galup, all make for a satisfying theater experience and a fun cocktail hour (plus 45 minutes).
Remaining performances for “The Cocktail Hour” are 7:30 p.m. June 14-16 and 20-23.
For information, call the Center for Faith and the Arts, 704-647-0999.
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Contact Sarah Hall at 704-797-4271 or shall@salisburypost.com.

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