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The Common Pursuit

Six fine actors shine in Moises Kaufman's production of Simon Gray's play about a group of longtime friends.

By New York City
Jacob Fishel, Tim McKeever, Josh Cooke
and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in
The Common Pursuit
(© Joan Marcus)
Jacob Fishel, Tim McKeever, Josh Cooke
and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in
The Common Pursuit
(© Joan Marcus)
When British dramatists educated at Cambridge or Oxford write about what they know, as Simon Gray did in his biting, slightly awkward play, The Common Pursuit, now being revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theatre, they tend to present one or more brilliant but dissatisfied characters unable to maintain the undergraduate ideals they once claimed to cherish.

Moreover, while these whip-smart playwrights are at it, they usually shape the sort of to-kill-for roles that allow actors to shine, which six fine performers do in Moises Kaufman's fine production.

When first spotted in his untidy, book-filled, 1960s Cambridge digs, Stuart (Josh Cooke) is only briefly interrupting his planning a literary periodical called The Common Pursuit to frolic with girlfriend Marigold (Kristen Bush) atop the unmade mattress he's thrown on the floor. But before long, the pair have run off to befriend a visiting poet.

Meanwhile publishing hopeful Martin (Jacob Fishel), self-critical poet Humphry (Tim McGeever), chain-smoking and wise-cracking Nick (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) and hustling Peter (Kieran Campion) gather in common pursuit of associating with the budding project.

Over the next two acts, 20 or so years go by, during which Stuart and Marigold marry, but meet complications when trying to have children, while cat-loving Martin faithfully funds the struggling magazine; Peter weds a woman on whom he habitually cheats (using his friends as alibis); Nick continues coughing chronically as he makes a name for himself in more popular culture; and the extremely perceptive Humphry becomes increasingly unhappy with his writerly efforts.

Gray's themes are the inevitable lies and betrayals in which even the smartest people can't help indulging themselves, but his overarching interest is exploring the rigors and pitfalls of longtime friendship. And since his play is clearly autobiographical, there's even a dash of self-condemnation.

Before Gray signs off, however, he mostly succeeds in demonstrating that the glue binding these inexplicably loyal, yet too often disloyal, personages is triumphantly strong.

Yet, as he makes his points, Gray relies a shade too much on talky exposition, as well as clumsy contrivances to get some of the characters (in their well-chosen Clint Ramos togs) off stage so others can have revelatory chats.

At one point in the work, Stuart looks as if a grant he desperately needs will be denied because the deciding panel considers The Common Pursuit "elitist." While some might deem Gray and his work "elitist"-- considering script references to English literary critic F. R. Leavis and poetry formats like terza rima -- this drama remains mostly universal and undeniably, compellingly true to everyday life.


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