As the novelist Joseph Heller observed, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.” And as the three characters who barely survive Theresa Rebeck’s twisting and twisted thriller, Downstairs, demonstrate, paranoia is merely one indication that someone you know could be harboring bad intentions. Other warning signs include psychopathic tendencies, the inability to separate reality and fantasy, and sheer, anesthetizing dread. Maybe your workmates are dispensing poison, or your husband is not the man you thought you knew, or your sister has had enough. Maybe that pipe wrench would be an effective blunt instrument. Or, maybe it’s just all in your head. Rebeck and her stellar cast keep us guessing through a tense, intermission-less hour and 45 minutes, while simultaneously pondering larger questions involving inheritances of both the genetic and financial variety.
If you thought you knew A.R. Gurney, you’re in for a bit of a surprise. Final Follies, Primary Stages’ collection of three Gurney one-acts, reveals facets of the late, beloved playwright that steer clear of the collective impression of him. Yes, WASPs frequent the stage, though not exclusively, and Gurney is concerned as usual with questions of status, repression, and traditions passed on from generation to generation. But he wanders into what seems very un-Gurney territory—with uneven but often beguiling results.
Don’t underestimate Jane Austen. Her authorial voice, distinctively witty and humane, rings out above the Gothic din of early 19th-century fiction. Two centuries after her death, this middle-class provincial’s novels still enchant readers with their verisimilitude and authenticity, despite how radically manners and morals have changed.
Daniel’s Husband is one of those plays where, halfway through, something so unexpected, plot-altering, and tone-shifting happens that it just can’t be revealed. Michael McKeever’s comedy-drama about the still-new era of gay marriage is cleft in two—part one: comedy, part two: drama—and both halves are effective, if you’re willing to accept some questionable behavior on the part of the title character.