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Gurney’s Wasps Lose Sting But Carry On in ‘Black Tie’: Review

'Black Tie'
From left, Carolyn McCormick, Daniel Davis, Ari Brand and Gregg Edelman in "Black Tie." Photographer: James Leynse/O&M Co. via Bloomberg

A.R. Gurney’s tender, funny comedy “Black Tie” takes place at a wedding in one of those Adirondack Mountain hotels that are long on knotty-pine walls and brown-plaid upholstery and short on amenities such as glasses.

It’s the night of the rehearsal dinner and in their room, the white, gentile parents of the groom are dressing.

As Curtis dons evening wear he inherited from his father, the old man himself -- dapper, cheerful, dead -- appears in the mirror, conjured by Curtis’s yearning for paternal advice.

Dad was a revered host and toastmaster, but in earlier, simpler times. His grandson is now marrying a black woman. There are Jewish guests requiring pasta and a gay stand-up comic who’s invited a reporter from the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times to cover the raunchy routine he’s giving as a wedding present. The civilized world Curtis and his father cherish no longer exists.

Gurney built a career dramatizing with bittersweet acuity the demise of Waspus Americanus. But “Black Tie” is less a lament than a white flag. In the end both Curtis and, somewhat more unlikely, his father, face the vulgar future with a smile not so much of resignation but of false optimism, which is more, well, civilized.

Mark Lamos has given the play a pitch-perfect showcase, moving the one-act at such a lively clip it’s hard to get hung up on its quaintness.

Gregg Edelman is goofily touching as the befuddled, mostly clueless Curtis. Carolyn McCormick is utterly winning as his forbearing and much more liberal wife, Mimi. Ari Brand is convincingly terrified as the groom, Teddy, and Elvy Yost is feisty as his sister, Elsie.

Best of all is Daniel Davis as Father, doling out advice in the form of quotations from Chaucer and Byron, grinning broadly, exuding self-confidence, and generally making a darned lot of sense.

Through March 20 at Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St. Information: +1-212-279-4200; Rating: ***

What the Stars Mean:
****        Excellent
***         Very Good
**          Average
*           Not So Good
(No stars)  Avoid

(Jeremy Gerard is an editor and critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)

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