Last week we went into rehearsal with the third play written by our friend, A.R. “Pete” Gurney, his 1993 comedy Later Life. We first produced The Dining Room in 2007 and The Old Boy in 2013. If you don’t count short plays bundled together (we’ve done 2 evenings of Thornton Wilder’s one acts - 7 works in all - but none full lengths), we’ve produced more evenings of Pete's plays than any playwright in our history.
Why is that?
At Keen, we tell stories about the decisive moments in life that change us. These moments can be small, yet change us in profound ways. Pete wrote about those instances. Whether a child not wanting to take dancing lessons or two acquaintances meeting at a party, Pete had a rare gift to turn the commonplace into the extraordinary. And do so with a healthy sense of humor.
In Later Life, he does so not only with our main protagonists, Austin and Ruth, but in a host of characters (all played by the same two actors) who we meet for just a few minutes of stage time each. What always amazes me is the economical and empathetic way Pete paints these characters. In only a few minutes, we get to know them as if we’d spent hours with them — and want to get to know them more. Pete presents them fairly as they’re all trying to do their best in this crazy world we live in.
When Pete would come to theatre on a given night, he’d always ask me “How’s it selling?” In the early days I wondered if that was his ego asking, but as I got to know him better, I knew he asked because he cared for the health of our company. He cared for the theatre the way he cared for his characters - wanting everyone to succeed.
Pete passed away this summer. While we miss him terribly, it is so nice to be back in the room with his characters. Like him, they are true mensches. Even if we can’t have him with us in the flesh, he is certainly with us in spirit every day.
By Jonathan Silverstein