theater: Have Another, Dear 

Excellent casting and skilled directing mark the Barksdale's latest.

The point is, Edwards' character is someone you know. And in his family, there is no question who is head of household when they gather You can tell a lot about people by how they handle their drinks, not especially how they hold their liquor, but how they actually hold their glassware. Director Nancy Cates pays astute attention to this subtle body language in directing the four family members in A.R. Gurney's comedy.

Bradley (Burt Edwards) commandeers the bar where he doles out drinks of choice, all the while expounding the merits of a good cocktail hour: an evening ritual when family members can relax, reminisce and supposedly bond. He returns to the helm on a regular basis to keep a stronghold on his favorite poison, a good Scotch. His wife, Ann (Jolene Carroll), between sips, is a model of decorum, keeping her martini glass wrapped in a napkin and cradled in her lap.

"I think I'll have another, dear," she says frequently, "but just a splash."

Daughter Nina (Meredith Strange-Boston), with a delicate grasp of the goblet stem, accepts only one serving of wine. Before the cocktail hour is up, however, she manages to down a few more. Her brother John (Duke Lafoon) refuses to drink at all, staving off his father's attempts at forced hospitality. After all, he is on a sober mission. John hopes to get permission to produce a play he has written about a sensitive topic he knows very well — his family. When the stress of recounting stinging childhood memories during the hour of family bonding finally sends John to the wet bar, you wonder if the party is over.

A.R. Gurney, one of America's most prolific playwrights is a master of character study. In "The Cocktail Hour," Gurney reflects on the dynamics of family, most any family. Regardless of this particular family's high social status, the pecking order is apparent: the ruler of the roost, the go-between, the favorite and the shortchanged. Edwards' Bradley is crusty, blustery, always right, often contrary, and at the same time, inexplicably lovable. He was made for this role.

Veteran actress Jolene Carroll, whose credits include more than 65 stage productions in New York and regional theaters, is delightfully deadpan as the maternal peacemaker.

Strange-Boston and Lafoon are naturals as siblings Nina and John. Nina's warmth is an ideal counterbalance to her brother's cool and rightful reserve.

While "The Cocktail Hour" is not Gurney's most notable work ("The Dining Room," "Love Letters" and "Sylvia"), the cast delivers witty and poignant lines in a memorable performance. You have to wonder, however, with all that drinking going on, why no one gets overly tipsy.

Scenic Designer Philip Male and Lighting Designer Allen Mack pool their talents in the creation of a sumptuous and elegant drawing room, which, indeed, draws you in as a silent member of the family.

"The Cocktail Hour" is entertaining, often hilarious — and like any family gathering — on occasion guaranteed to hit a raw nerve. S

"The Cocktail Hour" runs at the Barksdale Theatre, 1601 Willow Lawn Drive, through April 19. Tickets cost $20-$28. Call 282-2620.

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