This season, Primary Stages celebrates playwright A.R. Gurney with a selection of three of his one-act plays, Final Follies, The Rape of Bunny Stuntz, and The Love Course, in an evening called Final Follies. Mr. Gurney, who passed away in 2017, was known as a keen chronicler of WASP culture and was a prolific writer who, in addition to over 40 plays, also wrote four novels and two screenplays.
Betsy Aidem, a 2007 Obie winner for Sustained Excellence of Performance, stars in two of these plays. We asked why she thinks Mr. Gurney is one of the most popular and most produced playwrights in America. She told us, “I think Pete had an ear for passionate people, who were trying against their natures to follow the rules and embraced their failure to do so with a lot of affection and endearment.”
Gurney’s catalog of plays includes The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour, and the Pulitzer Prize nominated Love Letters, all of which continue to see major productions across the country year in and year out. And while he mostly wrote about a particular group of upper class people, he also had his political side. Gurney wrote Big Bill, a play about tennis player Bill Tilden who was disgraced after he was arrested for making sexual advances on a teenage boy, Oh, Jerusalem, a post 9-11 tale that infused a cross-cultural romance with political complications, and Mrs. Farnsworth, an anti-Bush comedy that opened right before the 2004 election.
The current production of Final Follies includes three one-act plays performed by a versatile cast who takes on the different characters across the evening.
Ms. Aidem plays two of these over the course of the night, both inspired by people in her life. She mentions someone she knew, “My prep for Professor Carroway is really an amalgam of 4 different teachers who had a huge influence on me. My prep for Wilma is basically channeling myself in 5th grade, last picked for the team, last picked at the dance, trying to be invisible.”
Her credits include the Broadway production of All the Way, where she played Lady Bird Johnson, Katherine Graham and Katharine St. George, as well as the original productions of Steel Magnolias, Lie of the Mind and Balm in Gilead. She has also appeared on TV shows like “Nurse Jackie” and “Rescue Me.” She feels blessed to have had so many great parts throughout her career but says that “after a bunch of dark ones, in Branden Jacobs Jenkins' Appropriate, Marguerite Oswald in Mama's Boy and Lady Bird in All the Way, several Adam Rapp plays and a few sad, sad ladies in some movies, I'm thrilled to be doing some comedy.”
Final Follies runs at Primary Stages through October 21, 2018. For tickets and information, visit https://primarystages.org/shows/current-season/final-follies/.
Besty Aidem portrait courtesy of Primary Stages
Production photo: Betsy Aidem & Piter Marek, photo by James Leynse