Blog Review: ‘Pru Payne’ brings heart-crushing tale to life on stage in Tucson

Review: ‘Pru Payne’ brings heart-crushing tale to life on stage in Tucson

By Kathleen Allen. Originally published by the Arizona Daily Star.

If Elizabeth Hardwick and Dorothy Parker had a baby, it would be Pru Payne. Pru is the acerbic, acid-tongued character in Arizona Theatre Company’s Pru Payne.

Like Hardwick and Parker, Pru is a critic, a towering intellectual, and can be seriously scary when she puts pen to paper.

And she is slowly sinking into dementia.

Her son, Thomas, has taken Pru to a clinic because she seems to be having memory gaps. That’s not good, especially as Pru has been given a hefty advance to write her memoir.

It is at this clinic that Pru meets Gus, who is also suffering from a dimming memory. Gus is the opposite of Pru — a janitor, coarse and anti-intellectual.

Pru has relied on her mind her whole life. As she loses it, her heart takes command and she and Gus find love.

This is the world premiere of the Steven Drukman play. Director Sean Daniels has put together a cast that brings this heart-crushing story to vivid life.

It is led by film and television actress Mimi Kennedy (Mom), who infuses Pru with a stature befitting a Brahim intellectual who values art, and thinking about art, above all else. Kennedy is a force on stage.

Gordon Clapp — also a movie and television actor (NYPD Blue) — is a funny and lovable Gus. Clapp is a deeply honest performer, which makes watching him inhabit this character a thrill.

The rest of the cast is also stellar: Veronika Duerr is the all-business Dr. Dolan, who cares for Gus and Pru; Tristan Turner plays Pru’s son, Thomas, who is a writer struggling to break free of his mother’s long shadow, and Greg Maraio gives Art, Gus’ son, a tender heart and a fierce loyalty to his father.

The spare set by James J. Fenton consists of a few chairs and a series of door frames, emblematic of the ins and outs the mind goes through as it slips away.

There is a backdrop of an oversized portrait of Pru, which crumbles and rearranges as her mind becomes more splintered.

The play sometimes feels too invested in name-dropping the literati of the mid-20th century. But doing so gives us a wider portrait of who Pru is.

Drukman’s wit is wicked and his storytelling strong, which makes spending an evening with Pru Payne a fun and powerful night at the theater.