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'Crazy Mary' sparkles with Gurney's wit in new comedy

If not for a few hints tucked into the show, it would be tough to tell if A.R. Gurney's latest comedy, "Crazy Mary," was written last year or in the late '70s.

And therein lies the fun.

In a hilarious production that contains lighthearted comic writing from an American master of the form, the Kavinoky Theatre's production of the show creates a delightful picture of an oddball American family.

The scene is a homey sanitarium [an antiquated term in itself] outside Boston.

Lydia [Maureen Anne Porter] and her son Skip have traveled in from Buffalo and Harvard University, respectively, to settle some questions about the family fortune, which happens to be tied up with their cousin and an occupant of the sanitarium, one "lecherous old lunatic" named Mary [Nan Wade].

When Mary takes a liking to the naive and impossibly snarky Skip [newcomer Michael Vargovich], her sordid history comes to life, and Skip's overbearing mother Lydia tries to steer them away from imminent disaster, while at the same time trying to siphon off some of Mary's money into her own purse.

If that sounds like the plot to a particularly twisted episode of "Dallas," it's not far off.

Gurney's characters in "Crazy Mary" are essentially affable cartoon characters who bear just enough resemblance to actual people to be recognizable.

And that's anything but a drawback to the show, owing to Gurney's subtle manipulation of his caricatures' often heated exchanges.

Aside from some apparent opening night jitters, the cast is a gift to this production.

As Lydia, the WASPish and manipulative mother, Porter turns in the most solid performance of the evening, with her constant references to a failed life in Buffalo and endless ability to talk herself deeper and deeper into holes of her own creation.

Wade gives us a Crazy Mary worthy of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest."

Her wide-eyed transformation under the tutelage of Skip [whom she calls her "docent"], is a revelation in a role that demands plenty.

One can't help wondering if Gurney isn't poking a bit of fun at his own form here, and his ending and story arch as a whole leave a little to be desired.

But his easy comic writing and amplified personalities combine to create a hilarious and touching picture of familial discord, unrealistic though it may be.



"Crazy Mary"

Comedy opened Friday night and runs through Dec. 9 in Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Ave.

For more information, call 829-7668 or visit

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