As a rule of thumb, I try to avoid writing previews in first-person for fear of sounding self-indulgent or, worse yet, being found out and scolded by my former writing professors. But given the nature of The Grand Manner and playwright A.R. Gurney’s own “appearance” in the play through the character of Peter, I have decided to temporarily suspend that rule and to begin this preview with a (brief, and minimally self-indulgent!) personal anecdote.
I recently met a gentleman whose accomplishments astounded me. In his eighty odd years of living, he had run a multitude of successful businesses, travelled abroad and lived among other cultures, raised three beautiful children… and remained a sweet, humble spirit through it all. He asked me what I wanted to do in my own life, and, slightly starstruck, I stammered off my “plans” with a nervous smile and all the poorly masked uncertainty that betrays us recent college grads. Kind and compassionate as he was, he leaned over to me, and with a twinkle in his eye he whispered, “I’ll let you in on a little secret, Carley: We’re all winging it.”
Again and again as I read The Grand Manner for the first time, I relived this moment, smiling just as I had smiled at the man for his oh-so-appreciated empathy and feeling at least a smidge of that post-graduate terror lifted off of my shoulders. And this is what I believe and hope will happen to each audience member who sees Little Lake’s production of The Grand Manner: They will be reminded of pivotal, life-changing moments in their own lives, and they will be reminded that uncertainty and imperfection are what make us human, and that humanity is beautiful.
“Each character in this play starts out as a distinct personality, and slowly, as the story unfolds, the façades that the characters start with are stripped away, and they become real people,” shared TJ Firneno, the director of The Grand Manner. In describing the challenges of directing this particular production, he said finding those “moments of realness” where the façades chip away has been of vital importance in fully realizing each of the four characters.
One final anecdote before I bid you all farewell until the next production:
At one of Little Lake’s matinee performances of Letters to Sala, the show immediately preceding The Grand Manner, one Little Lake staff member recounted to me what had happened while she was watching TJ and his cast rehearse.
“The character Katharine Cornell has this one line,” she said, “and when I heard it, I just knew exactly what she meant. It was a line about how women, once they reach a certain age, begin to feel ‘invisible.’ And it’s true; people treat you differently, their expectations of you change, and Patricia Fuchel, who plays Cornell, delivered it with such honesty. It was just beautiful.”
Though I didn’t mention it at the time, I felt it a lovely, serendipitous moment: There I was, listening to this woman of an entirely different generation than I talk about how this play touched her, while I had been touched by my reading of it as well, just in a different way. Personally, I cannot wait to hear more stories of how this play moves each individual member the Little Lake family who comes to see it.
The Grand Manner opens this weekend, November 12-14, and runs again next weekend, November 19-21, and finally closes with performances on November 27 and 28. Tickets can be purchased online at www.littlelake.org/box-office/ or by contacting the box office at (724) 745-6300.