Liz Smith: In Praise of A.R. Gurney’s ‘Black Tie’


Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus

And more from our Liz: the saga of Miley and Billy Ray Cyrus

“I DO salute playwright A. R. (‘Pete’) Gurney – he is the civilized David Mamet!”

I offered this praise when accepting an award from the Transport Theater on a night they were honoring both me, and Mr. Gurney at Asia House. (I was in good company, to say the least.)

When he was presented, Mr. Gurney behaved as if the evening was simply all about me, ignoring his own status. He laughed, but thankfully ignored my silly remark, because he knows perfectly well that I can’t come up with anything half as magnificent as I believe his gifts to be.

“Pete” Gurney is a gentleman to the end; also a scholar who taught literature for 25 years at MIT and has written plays, movies, TV shows, novels, and opera librettos. Actors simply adore him for what he gives them to work with onstage.

This maestro of disappearing WASP values (whose creations include “The Dining Room,” “The Cocktail Hour,” and the classic “Love Letters,” still being performed all over the world,) has a new effort off-Broadway titled “Black Tie.” This is a little outing where the Presbyterian conservative and elegant throwback father (actor Gregg Edelman) and the ghost of his stuffy quote-filled overbearing father (Daniel Davis) debate the merits of class, birth, upbringing, proper dress, convention, and changing social mores on the eve of a wedding for their son and grandson, actor Ari Brand. They stagger backward upon discovering that the beautiful bride may not be quite “comme il faut.”

Here, we learn when “evening clothes” can be termed “black tie,” or the less grand “tuxedo,” or when “pants” should be rightly described as “trousers,” and many other tiny behavior down grades from the good old days.

The sardonic mother, played by the adorable Carolyn McCormick, is the rightly-born type who sides with her rebellious children and their times. Elvy Yost makes her New York City acting debut as the “messenger” daughter who bears all the bad news about who will or won’t wear what, who will or won’t make the “bridal dinner toasts” (wrongly, in dad’s eyes, described as “the rehearsal dinner.”) The ghost of WASPs past, grandfather Davis, asks, “How can you rehearse a dinner?”

I loved this play. The actors were first rate, director Mark Lamos has it down pat, and I recognized the set — a hotel on the tip of Lake George near the Adirondacks. I’ve actually been there: probably you too. Oh, and you don’t have to brave Times Square to see “Black Tie” because it’s at the easily available 59 E. 59 Theater between Madison and Park. Incidentally, the New York Times critic loved it.

You have only until March 27 to see it in Manhattan.

* * *

IT IS to laugh out loud — and maybe cry a bit — to read the agonized regrets of Billy Ray Cyrus in the new GQ magazine, mourning the success of his daughter.

Billy was briefly a big country star with “Achy Breaky Heart.” Then he seemed to fall off the radar until popping up in Disney’s sitcom “Hannah Montana.” Hannah was portrayed by Billy’s real-life  12-year-old daughter, Miley Cyrus.

For reasons not clear to me, young Miss Cyrus became a great big teen sensation — she sang, she danced, she acted. (Millions of fans were not terribly concerned about how well she sang, danced or acted. Something was appealing to them.)

Of course, Miley grew up. Fast.

Now, it has always been difficult to be a child star, or a teen star, even back in the good old days before TMZ and 24 cable news. Going through puberty is upheaval enough. Imagine going through it while the world watches?

Despite being under the stringent admonitions of Disney, Miley developed like a normal teen — except she wasn’t normal; she was a star. There’s no stopping teenagers who want to dress provocatively, act older than their age, experiment with drink and drugs, or post slightly naughty photos on the web. Miley did some of all that. When she performed a dance number on a stripper pole, the world went nuts. When she exposed a bare shoulder and a bit of back in Vanity Fair, the world went nuttier. (Not to mention the comments caused by a photo of Miley and Billy Ray that seemed a bit too intimately posed for daughter and father.) And then the bong scandal!

Throughout Miley’s various adventures, Billy Ray (and Miley’s mom, Tish, who is now divorcing Billy Ray,) were supportive and defensive. Their girl was a good girl, who wasn’t doing anything millions of other teenage girls weren’t doing.

Now Miley is 18. She is no longer “Hannah Montana.” And suddenly Billy Ray Cyrus says he regrets ever putting his daughter on the wicked stage. He thinks she’s headed for hell in a handbasket, even citing names such as Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith, as cautionary examples of what could befall Miss Cyrus!

His remarks are so extreme one has to wonder — does he know something we don’t, yet? Or has the nearly adult Miley made some career and/or financial decisions that don’t include her parents? (Billy also thinks Satan is “attacking” his family. And he insists he has never made a dime off his stellar child. Billy has five other children whom we assume will not star in any Disney projects.)

Miley Cyrus is obviously ready to make waves in our new-fangled gossip world, with the old-fangled tale of high-earning child stars and their parents.

The more things change…

8 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Bella Mia says:

    Our teenagers really are paddling down a river of cultural filth.  How to help them resist jumping right into those piranha infest waters is a challenge but doable.  Developing a future-oriented mindset is s a teachable skill, but it takes deliberate instruction from parents, and lots of it.  Parents who set high standards for dress and grooming and behavior, taught with a loving and respectful tone have been proven over time to be successful.
    Look at the Trump kids – can you image any of them comporting themselves like Miley :  sexting, drugging, dressing like a prostitute?  Would their parents have tolerated that behavior?  I remember my son telling us that he was with a group of friends who passed around a joint.  He said no, and when pressed said, “My father will kill me.”  It reminded me that Will Smith had the same reaction to negative peer pressure, “My father will kill me.  No, you don’t understand, he will kill me.” I remember him saying in an interview.
    Taylor Swift is developing in a slightly different media category and she is adored by fans for her wholesomeness – no drugs, sexting, collapsing in nightclubs or showing her crotch in public.  As a parent I am so grateful.  She gives the credit to her parents.  She has a fabulous song set to home movies that gives credit to her parents for raising her in a wonderful home environment.
    So poor Miley had not been sufficiently innoculated against the culture.  Social science has now revealed what works and what doesn’t work.

  2. avatar Richard Bassett says:

           Just this week, Billy has admitted that he may have gone a bit overboard with the comments that he made about Disney (who he claims has destroyed his family) and his daughter, Miley. Miley is simply growing up under the scrutiny of the public eye, and Billy’s marriage ending. Last week, he took no accountability for this. He had to consent to allow Miley to enter into show biz to begin with, several years ago. And now he suddenly wants to pull the plug? As being a successful artist for many years, Billy has to be familiar with the pros and cons of the industry. He is hardly the incident Ohio farmer who is suddenly seeing his daughter acting out…doing things that teens do. Miley has said that she is (was) a role model for young women but that can be exhausting and she was bound to break free of her ‘Hannah Montana’ image, and start to live in the real world. At this point, she shows better judgment than her father…who wants to make all of this public. Let the girl grow up and stop bringing unwanted attention to her. She can do that on her own. Yes Billy, we know that you are a has-been and being public about his daughters behavior puts you in the headlines again…but surely, there must be another way. Hey, why don’t you try to make more music instead of blatantly talking about the fears and woes of his family, in public. Miley is moving on, and he is getting a divorce. If his family is, indeed, the most important thing in his life…then he should be discrete because right now, he is as transparent as he can get.

    • avatar Count Snarkula says:

      So glad you logged in.  THANK YOU so much for the beautiful You-Tube Elizabeth Taylor tribute you made and sent to me.  Her natural smile is SO engaging…but man…nobody can give “bish” face like La Liz.  Thanks again, you made my day!  CS

  3. avatar Richard Bassett says:

    You are SO welcome, Count Snarkula! Thank you.

  4. avatar Mr. Wow says:

    Miley Cyrus…Good grief.  I have watched “Hannah Montana.”  She is bereft of…anything. Utterly unappealing.

     But her father should get together with Michael Lohan and see which one can work harder to drive their daughter to a mental institution. Mr. Lohan has the upper hand–and Lindsay is already a textbook case– but I think Billy Ray could catch up in no time. (However, Miss Miley seems a sensible sort–as sensible as one can be at 18 and famous.  She’ll survive Billy Ray.)

  5. avatar Linda Myers says:

    It makes it real tough for a kid to hold themselves as being responsible and accountable for what they do, when the parent doesn’t do that in the first place as an example. Billy Ray, quit blaming the world for your own actions. You could have chosen to be a parent rather than a buddy – leaving your daughter to figure out life maybe a bit too early. Maybe there is a social club in which Billy, Lindsay Lohan and Brittney Spears, along with a few others mother’s could create to WAA! in. Don’t blame Hollywood for dropping the ball in parenting.

  6. avatar annee says:

    Does anyone have any thoughts re the financial trouble that his son-in-law has put him in.
    On the day of the oscars it seems appropriate to mention that an icon of yesteryear would
    be such would be so abused.

  7. avatar annee says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t mention that its Mickey Rooney and he’s 90 years old.