In Kenneth Lonergan witty, poignant and surprisingly funny New York play, The Waverley Gallery, the action centres around feisty 80-something, Gladys. Gladys is an old-school lefty, a lifelong social activist and vibrant member of the Village scene and the owner of the Waverley Art Gallery mentioned in the play’s the title. Gladys is already exhibiting symptoms of Dementia when the first scene begins. The Gallery, though hardly lucrative anymore, gives her a routine and purpose to her days. When the landlord decides to turn the property into an extension of his hotel, Gladys’ condition rapidly deteriorates. A small cast of characters exist as Gladys’ carers and community: her grandson who lives in the same apartment block, her daughter and her daughter’s husband and the artist who will become the last person to have an exhibition in Gladys’ gallery.
The Waverley Gallery is quite a simply structured play. The scenes move between the gallery, Gladys’ apartment and her daughter’s house where the family gather for a weekly dinner and catch up. The simplicity of the structure allows Lonergan to focus on the interactions between characters. The dialogue is absolutely superb. Lonergan’s managed to perfectly capture the repetitive retellings of a person in the first throes of memory loss- we get the same set phrases, anecdotes and questions from Gladys at every single family dinner. Lonergan also has an incredible ear for how families communicate, talking over each other and at cross purposes, blending wit and humour in with fond mockery. Having sat through so many dinners with various family members exhibiting the first signs of Dementia, I can honestly say I’ve never seen this kind of dialogue written with so much accuracy and warmth.
Lonergan also gives time to the family members who have, by default, become Gladys’ carers. He notes their fondness for the old lady alongside their frustration with the situation and occasionally with Gladys herself. Gladys is also a powerful and dominant voice in the play. Despite her confusion she stunningly articulates her own frustration at how the final years of her life are playing out. She speaks poignantly about the loss of her independence and the plans she’d had for later life. The Time Out review called The Waverley Gallery“attractively modest,” and I believe this to be a fitting accolade for the play. Lonergan isn’t attempting anything revolutionary with this script. It’s simple but it’s also incredibly well-executed. The interplay between characters is so beautifully developed and accurate it does not require any further embellishment.
The Waverley Gallery was published by Grove Press. in 2000.