Early on in A. R. Gurney's "The Cocktail Hour," a witty, well-to-do husband and wife wonder whatever happened to the sophisticated drawing room comedies they once loved. The irony of the scene is that they are in one of those comedies at the time.
"The Cocktail Hour" -- currently receiving a delightful production directed by Suzanne Pratt at Theatre Hopkins -- is filled with such ironies. In fact, one of the chief delights is the way the script comments on itself.
The story concerns a playwright who has written a play about his upper-crust White Anglo-Saxon Protestant parents and wants their permission to produce it.
The play, like the one we're seeing, is called "The Cocktail Hour." And, all of the playwright's various scriptwriting problems -- the missing heart-to-heart scene between mother and son, the lack of a kicker to wrap things up -- are neatly solved before our eyes.
Particularly in the intimate confines of Theatre Hopkins, the effect is to make the audience feel like collaborators in the creative process. What's more, Harry B. Turner makes it easy to be on the side of the prodigal playwright son. His portrayal shows us a grown man reduced to little-boy status when he visits his childhood home; he's torn between unresolved needs to irritate his parents and win their approval.
Another of the production's charms is that the playwright's parents are played by a real-life married couple, Robert Walsh and Ruth Lawson Walsh. The marital spark between them simply glows, especially in a scene when they describe how the Lunts used to banter away simultaneously, and all the while, they unconsciously do just that.
Mr. Walsh, however, tends to give in to anger too soon, leaving insufficient room for the father's rage to grow. Bethany Brown is more at fault as the playwright's older sister; rolling her eyes with melodramatic fervor, she makes the character's af
fection for animals seem almost pathological.
Throughout "The Cocktail Hour," the playwright's mother tries to get him to turn his script into a book. "Books aren't quite so public," she insists. But the playwright claims he's "trapped in this old medium." Trapped or not, Mr. Gurney's rendition of that medium is as fresh as a twist of lemon in a dry martini. And Theatre Hopkins' production goes down almost as smoothly.
"The Cocktail Hour" continues at Theatre Hopkins weekends through May 26; call 338-7159.