So many stock characters show up at “The Wayside Motor Inn” that you wish you could hang a No Vacancy sign. And then get room service to get rid of the overstated themes.
Fortunately, though, top-notch performances keep you from requesting an early check-out during Signature’s new production of A.R. Gurney’s 1977 comedy-drama.
As with his 1982 breakthrough, “The Dining Room,” Gurney built this play around a smart conceit. There’s one set — in this case, a motel room outside Boston — and multiple story strands unspool individually but concurrently. There’s a symphonic effect.
Ray (Quincy Dunn-Baker) is a bored salesman with a wife and a thing for other women. He sics himself on a no-nonsense chambermaid (Jenn Lyon).
New grandparents Frank (Jon DeVries) and Jessie (Lizbeth Mackay) constantly push each other’s buttons. Frank’s short temper doesn’t help his chest pains.
Vince (Marc Kudisch) bullies his son Mark (Will Pullen) about an upcoming Harvard admissions interview, while coeds Phil (David McElwee) and Sally (Ismenia Mendes) try to experience the joy of sex. Too bad Phil pulls out the book with that title and kills the mood.
And fractious Andy (Kelly AuCoin) and Ruth (Rebecca Henderson) meet to finalize their separation. It gets ugly.
If these walls could talk, then hurt, loneliness and disconnection would be the popular topics. Gurney, a prolific writer whose dialogue sounds like everyday conversation, makes his points. Then he pounds them.
“I just want someone to listen to my heart,” moans Frank. Not once, but twice.
And Vince reads a motel brochure revealing that there were “some big battles around here in the Revolutionary War … A lot of blood was spilled.”
We get it — skirmishes rage on.
Despite the script’s lack of subtlety, 10 terrific performances hold you tight. Director Lila Neugebauer’s polished staging is just as fine. Furnishings along with chunky-soled shoes and three-piece suits bespeak the ’70s. But the idea that life is filled with tumult makes “The Wayside Motor Inn” more than a period piece.