Review: Black Tie at Chautauqua Playhouse

Showtimes: Fri 8pm, Sat 8pm, Sun 2pm; Through 1/13; $19-$21; Chautauqua Playhouse, La Sierra Community Center, 5325 Engle Road in Carmichael; (916) 489-7529;
Rated 4.0

Black Tie is another of the late playwright A. R. Gurney’s comic dissections of the WASP way of life. First performed in 2011, it comes from a place of warmth and appreciation for that culture. Its satiric depiction of upper class mores—its traditions, snobbery and pretensions—is tempered by an acceptance of family, a sense of duty and at least small openness to change and “diversity.”

Gurney’s plays (Sylvia, The Dining Room and Love Letters, among them) have been deeper and darker than this one, but the gentle humor and quirky plot twists make it a thoroughly enjoyable comedy.

At a resort in the Adirondack Mountains, Curtis (Walt Thompson), his wife Mimi (Julie Thompson) and Curtis’ late father (Paul Fearn) prepare for the rehearsal dinner for the marriage of their son Teddy (Marley Bauer) to the unseen but ever-present, multicultural fiancée Maya. Daughter Elsie (Kaitlin Richards), whom Teddy inexplicably calls “Little Hitler,” plays messenger between the bride-to-be and the parents.

A dream cast conveys a naturalness that is rarely seen. It begins with father and son reminiscing about the son’s own rehearsal dinner. Fearn and Walt immediately establish a comfortable rapport. Likewise, Julie and Walt, as onstage husband and wife, bicker and joke in an easy emotional attachment that is, no doubt, aided by the actors’ 10 years together. Bauer, as the jittery husband-to-be, and Richards, as the beleaguered daughter, are equally natural and believable.