Richard, Karen, and I saw *The Waverly Gallery* on Broadway on 10/30/18. It’s a play from 2000 by Kenneth Lonergan, now having its Broadway debut, directed by Lila Neugebauer. Lonergan is best known for his movie work - - he wrote and directed *You Can Count On Me* and *Manchester By the Sea.*
It’s what’s known as a “memory play.” This is a genre in which one of the characters narrates the events of the play, drawn from the character’s memory. *The Glass Menagerie* is the best example of a memory play. *The Waverly Gallery* is narrated by Daniel, the grandson of the central character.
The real draw of this production was Elaine May in the central role of Gladys, the grandmother in the story. It’s always a special thrill to feel an audience’s love for a performer, and that was palpable from the very first scene. May has a delicious way with a line reading, and her comic timing is, of course, second to none. I was pleasantly surprised that she was so strong in the dramatic scenes. I don’t know why this was a surprise, comics are often very good at drama.
This is a memory play, but it’s also a loss of memory play. The grandmother is slipping a little bit, in terms of her cognitive abilities, at the start of the play. By the end of the play she has gone off very far indeed. The first act is sort of funny and sad, the second act is disturbing and sad. It takes on a special poignancy having an actor in her 80s playing the lead in a play.
The second lead, her grandson, was played by Lucas Hedges, who played the teenage boy in *Manchester By the Sea* and Lady Bird’s first boyfriend in *Lady Bird.* He was fantastic, he totally held his own in his scenes with May, and more importantly, he really made you care about his character and the difficult situations he was put in.
It was a special delight seeing Joan Allen in the not-so-impressive role of Ellen, Glady’s daughter and Daniel’s mother. She brought a sincerity and truth to the role, and didn’t shy away from the more difficult, unlikeable moments. David Cromer played her husband, Howard, again not much of a part. And we had luxury casting in Michael Cera playing Don, the painter who is the last featured artist at the title gallery. He was a little dopey, entirely appropriate for his character. This is the third Lonergan he’s done on Broadway in four years - - Karen and I saw him in *This Is Our Youth,* which was so much more fun than this play. We missed him in *Lobby Hero,* which played last year.
Here are few clips from the original Off Broadway production of the play, with Eileen Heckart as Gladys, Josh Hamilton as Daniel, Maureen Anderman as Eleen, and Mark Blum as Howard.