‘The Wayside Motor Inn’ actors stay focused with nuance

Five different pairs of actors are used for five different subplots.

This is turning out to be quite the year for the much admired 83-year-old playwright A.R. Gurney, whose extensive body of work includes the two-hander “Love Letters,” which is being revived on Broadway with a rotating cast of celebs, and countless other works delving into WASP culture.

Signature Theatre Company, now kicking off its multi-part tribute to Gurney, is reviving “The Wayside Motor Inn,” a little-known comedic drama from 1977 that depicts individuals of varying ages and backgrounds who all happen to be spending the night in a motel outside of Boston.

The concept of the play resembles Neil Simon’s “Plaza Suite,” which was made up of three one-acts all set in the same hotel room with different characters.

Here, five different pairs of actors are used for five different subplots, and the play switches back and forth between these subplots. Although each pair is supposed in their own motel room, the actors are simultaneously sharing the same single room set, apparently unaware of each other.

As Frank and Jessie, a long-married couple in their 60s, take a nap on the bed, Phil and Sally, a college-age couple, are making out in the bathtub, and Ray, a traveling salesman, is making advances on a waitress, and Andy and Ruth, a separated couple, are going through family photos, and Andy and Mark, father and son, are arguing over whether Mark will go to Harvard or not.

If the play itself is relatively unimportant, and each subplot is thin on details, the combined portrait is pretty lively. Director Lila Neugebauer deserves a lot of credit for literally directing traffic, as do the actors for being able to stay focused on their own subplots in the midst of so much activity and fill their characters with a good deal of nuance.



If you go: “The Wayside Motor Inn” plays through Sept. 28 at the Signature Center. 480 W. 42nd St., 212-244-7529. Signaturetheatre.org.

Matt Windman