Review by Tulis McCall
(9 Feb 2011)
In the old days, when you were getting ready to send a script to someone, the rule of thumb was what s-o-m-e-t-h-i-n-g had to happen by page 10 or else the script would hit the wastebasket. Not only does nothing happen by page 10 in Black Tie, pretty much nothing happens at all.
Well that is not entirely true. There is a wedding on hand, and the family that we meet is all on the groom’s side. Curtis (Greg Edelman) is donning a tux (black tie shows up eventually) when his father (Daniel Davis) appears equally decked out. Curtis is in fact wearing his father’s old clothes because old Dad has passed on. Dad has passed on and is now back from the dead for an important reason that we don’t discover until the last five minutes of the play. In the 80 or so minutes in between we learn about etymology of “tuxedo”, “off the cuff” as well as a myriad of quotes from Chaucer, Byron and others. It is a recitative. Ably executed but signifying nothing. Presuming that Curtis has already heard all of these bon mots, one wonders why we must sit through them. They are interesting but not enough to make a plot.
Soon Curtis’s wife Mimi (Carolyn McCormick) enters to inform us of the goings on downstairs in the Ticonderoga Room where the rehearsal dinner is taking place. She awkwardly avoids seeing her dead father and is given the task of not hearing her husband speak to the ghost in full voice. Soon their daughter Elsie (Elvy Yost) arrives with tales of woe – someone has rearranged the table settings and an ex-beau has shown up to perform unannounced at the dinner. And finally Teddy (Ari Brand) the son shows up to fill in the details of the aforesaid as well as to recount his fight with Maya his fiancée (in what is perhaps the most egregious line of the play, Curtis informs his father of Maya’s race by explaining that she doesn’t blush because she is black).
Everything that is important seems to be happening off-stage while the characters on stage react. That is another of those pesky playwrighting guidelines: Bring the conflict onstage so we can see it.
This is another one of those plays where one thing happens, then another thing happens, then something else happens. It is like life – most of which were it put on the stage, we would find dull as wet sand. I am at a loss to explain how this play got chosen for production. Is it possible no one read it first?
Once again the actors, with the possible exception of Daniel Davis who seems to be in his own personal play, give it their best. Marooned by the text and it seems by the director as well, they hold on to one another and tread water till the very end.
And PS the people next to whom I sat loved it. I can’t explain phenomena like this – but it is what makes theatre tick. One play on stage becomes as many plays as there are people watching it. It is magic.
"One of this prolific writer’s most enjoyable plays in years, a modest but effortlessly engaging comedy."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"Always feels knotted in phoniness."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Under Mark Lamos' zippy direction, the actors are all in tip-top form and the tone is one of benign amusement."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Tender, funny comedy."
Jeremy Gerard for Bloomberg
"This generation-gap tale is a charmer—funny, observant, and altogether winning."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"Behind its charming comic facade the play poses more unsettling questions about the compromises demanded of the old WASP social order."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety