Comedy and writing legend Elaine May, now 85, returns to Broadway for the first time in well over half a century to play a woman facing the loss of her faculties in Kenneth Lonergan’s elegantly low-key and sympathetic play.
May plays Gladys, a former lawyer who has run a sleepy Greenwich Village art gallery for 28 years and lives independently down the hall from her grandson Daniel. The Waverly Gallery is a memory play, with Daniel retelling the story of her gradual decline and the impending closure of the gallery. May offers a deeply human and complex portrayal of this kindly but defiant soul as she becomes more bewildered.
There’s not much in the way of plot, but the play is a beautifully etched character portrait. It precisely calibrates both the reverberating tensions and fondness in this family, with visits from Gladys’s daughter and her second husband. Then there’s a sole outsider: an out-of-town artist who Gladys takes in. He’s played with a puppyish enthusiasm by Michael Cera.
Written in 1999, this is the play’s first Broadway appearance follows recent revivals there for Lonergan’s This is Our Youth and Lobby Hero (both of which also featured Cera). This has no doubt been precipitated by Lonergan’s rising star as a screenwriter and film director of Manchester by the Sea. Oscar-nominated actor Lucas Hedges appears here as Daniel, touchingly caring for his grandmother yet also exasperated by her.
Lila Neugebauer’s production is luxuriously enhanced by David Zinn’s sets of Gladys’ gallery and apartment, and the stellar cast also features Joan Allen and director/actor David Cromer as Gladys’ daughter and son-in-law.