Review: “Pru Payne” – Arizona Theatre Company
By Chris Curcio. Originally published on Curtain Up Phoenix.
Arizona rarely sees world premiere plays and often when plays begin here they aren’t stellar. So, it is wonderful that the Arizona Theatre Company’s Pru Payne is such a remarkable piece. Steven Drukman’s play is a sensitive and touching telling of dementia’s impacts on two very different individuals, one a well-known intellectual and critic, the other a school bus driver/custodian.
The play flashes back and forth between Prudence (Pru) Payne’s prime life as a well-known critic and her current demise as she establishes an endearing relationship with Gus Cudahy, the professed “custodial engineer.” The pair would probably have never met. When both are at a research facility exploring the dreaded disease, they develop their partnership.
Pru Payne is smartly insightful especially in the impeccable production that is brilliantly cast, sharply staged by former ATC artistic director Sean Daniels, and is spectacularly designed on a multipurpose set that functions as a variety of locales as it eases the play’s adept and fluid pacing.
The play shows Pru at her best but, as the diagnosis becomes definitive, she is checked into the research facility by her son where the disease’s effects are being studied on numerous patients including Gus as the pair’s charming admiration evolves.
Exquisite as Pru, Mimi Kennedy is a revelation. Although her recent successes have been in television, her fine theatrical background allows her to portray the roles many facets netting an award worthy performance. Her outbursts are agonizingly real as is her growing infatuation with Gus.
No less astonishing is Gordon Clapp’s nuanced Gus. Although Gus is less complex than Pru, his tussle with the disease is just as heartfelt. His directness with Pru helps her deal with the medical challenges she faces as they play off each other with complimentary brilliance.
The supporting cast is also winning. Tristan Turner’s Thomas Payne is tender, touching, and compassionate toward his mother. Greg Maraio’s Art Cudahy has the same heartfelt sincerity toward Gus and when the two sons meet, another interesting aspect of these characters emerges. Veronika Duerr is in command as the institute head until even she realizes she doesn’t have all the answers.
Pru Payne is a stunning artistic achievement. Rumors are already spreading that the play may be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and it would certainly be an admirable pick. The remarkable performances, the sharp staging, and the insightful play makes Pru Payne a masterpiece local theatergoers should not miss.