A. R. Gurney, Jr., crafts his plays about the people he knows—WASPs. The setting of most of his plays is New England suburbia. The stage is never crowded with actors or furniture; rather, Gurney’s sets suggest moods and situations. Often the audience become participants, and offstage actions, sounds, and characters are central to the play. Though writing with classical constraint, he is innovative in staging. In several plays, multiple scenes go on simultaneously. Music is also an integral part of many of his plays; Gurney deftly employs songs for atmosphere and tone. His plays are notable for their structure and polish; not a word is wasted.
Gurney’s first published play, Three People, written while he was in the Yale School of Drama, deals with his major theme: freedom. Two of the three characters—a university professor and his wife—are sympathetically presented in their struggle to accept the fact that their child is mentally deficient. They struggle magnificently with their broken dreams. The tragedy of this tightly knit one-act, one-scene play is that the third character, the baby, gets very little consideration as a person. Gurney manages the pathos of the situation without being morbid or sentimental. The baby is never onstage. He is talked about and tended to, but he is never seen. Much dialogue is exchanged from the offstage nursery as the wife talks to her husband from the nursery. The...
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