A fun night out with the 'boys' Lessons learned: Colonial Players of Annapolis mount a memorable production of A.R. Gurney's 'The Old Boy.'

November 05, 1995|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

At a posh New England prep school, "old boys" are upperclassmen paired with younger students to provide the newcomers with a bit of guidance and friendship.

When "old boy" Sam is assigned an opera lover and budding tennis star named Perry, little does he know that their friendship will one day inspire the greatest epiphany of his life.

But that understanding can be reached only through death. For Perry, as we learn in A. R. Gurney's play "The Old Boy," in production at Colonial Players of Annapolis, was a repressed homosexual who "came out" later in life and died of AIDS.

When Sam, now a respected politician (remember, this is theater!), returns to the alma mater to eulogize his friend, he is flooded with memories of Perry who, it turns out, was agonizing over his sexual identity even in those teen years spent under Sam's wing.

The Old Boy must also face his deceased friend's ex-wife Alison, an old flame Sam passed on to the tortured Perry in a misguided attempt to "righten" his sexual urges. As if that weren't enough, there's also Harriet, Perry's overbearing mother, who does for denial what Shakespeare did for tragedy.

Pelted by tough memories conjured up for us in marvelous flashbacks, Sam must also endure the Machiavellian hectoring dished out by his political aide, who is convinced that the candidate's brush with his blue-blooded past is going to ruin his electoral standing with non-preppies everywhere.

But with honesty, courage and more than a little good humor, realizations are reached and lessons are learned in touching fashion. The only snag is playwright Gurney's insistence that Sam tie up the loose ends in a bromidic plea for tolerance silly enough to sound lifted from an elementary school unit on multiculturalism.

The play survives, though, because of the honest appeal of its beautifully drawn characters.

You'd be hard-pressed to remember a better Colonial cast than this one.

Tim King does excellent work as Sam, who is likable, honest and remarkably complex. Mr. King might want to be careful not to dumb down the character too much when playing him as a youth, but he is marvelous in the title role.

Craig Mummey's Perry is a fresh, energetic presence whose inherent decency makes his agony even more unbearable to watch. You'll want to strangle his mum, played by Liz Barrett, but she's such a pistol that you can't help liking her a little. Mary Northam, who has the closest thing to an Eartha Kitt voice Annapolis has to offer, smolders with latent anger as the woman jilted by both the Old and New Boys.

Kudos as well to Dan Kavanaugh as the acerbic aide, and to Al Cauffman, who plays the delightful schoolmaster. He adds comic relief and a little emotional sanity to the proceedings.

The cast stumbled over some lines last weekend, but the characterizations were immaculate -- the result, in no small part, of the immense efforts of director Mickey Handwerger.

"The Old Boy" runs Thursday through Sunday until Nov. 18. Tickets are $10 Friday and Saturday, $7 Thursday and Sunday. Call the box office at 268-7373 for reservations.

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