“Katharine Cornell swims in the nude,” Guthrie McClintic says in A.R. Gurney’s play “The Grand Manner.” The character of Guthrie, based on Cornell’s real-life husband Guthrie McClintic, goes on to explain, “On Martha’s Vineyard we swim in the nude in the clear light of day.” “The Grand Manner,” which opened at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater in 2010, has been called a love letter to a fabled actress. That actress is Katharine Cornell, once known as the first lady of American theater. On Wednesday, July 12, at 7 pm, there will be a staged reading of “The Grand Manner,” at the Katharine Cornell Theater. Nicole Galland, co-creator of Shakespeare for the Masses, will read the role of Katharine Cornell, and Rob Myers will read the role of Pete, a character Gurney based on himself. The reading will be directed by Wayne Greenwell.
Gurney died on June 13, just a few weeks ago. His considerable gifts as a playwright were described in his obituary in The New York Times: “In his hands, the conventions of the drawing-room comedy became the framework for social analysis. His astute observations were leavened with tart humor, and he was adept at using misunderstandings, either accidental or willful, as fuel for drama.”
In 1948, Gurney traveled to New York to see a production of Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra.” Raised in Buffalo, N.Y., as was Cornell, the 18-year-old Gurney used that connection to talk his way backstage, where he met Cornell. While they spent only a short time together, the visit had a long-lasting and profound impact on the playwright. “I kept thinking about it, reading about her, talking to people who had been in that production or other productions, and I thought, Why do I keep thinking about this all the time?” he told an interviewer in 2010. Sixty years after their meeting, he decided to write a play about it.
Vineyarders and visitors who think of Katharine Cornell as the lady for whom the theater in Vineyard Haven with the Stan Murphy murals was named, rather than an accomplished stage actress, will delight in seeing this production. Gurney fans will enjoy the signature wit of the prolific playwright’s dialogue.
To find out more about Katharine Cornell and her impact and life on the Vineyard, read “Searching for Katharine Cornell” in the new issue of Arts & Ideas Magazine.
The reading of A.R. Gurney’s “The Grand Manner” will take place on Wednesday, July 12, at 7 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theater. The event is co-sponsored by Martha’s Vineyard Arts & Ideas magazine and the Vineyard Haven library.