BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
An English play from 1984, Simon Gray’s “The Common Pursuit” is a tidy little comedy about smart people who mess up their lives.
Roundabout’s revival, which opened Thursday at the Steinberg Center for Theater, could be considered a slim, although pleasant, companion piece to “Look Back in Anger,” which just played there. Both British works regard young, dissatisfied people who look to their future.
Frankly, John Osborne’s drama is much spikier than “The Common Pursuit,” which provides a genteel account of several not-so-angry young men from Cambridge University losing their ideals/wives/standards/minds over the course of 15 not so frightfully eventful years.
These frenemies first meet at university in the late ‘60s when Stuart (Josh Cooke) organizes a literary magazine, to which they all contribute. Humphry (Tim McGeever) is the cool perfectionist, Peter (Kieran Campion) is the dashing womanizer and Nick (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe) is the jovial slob. The disarmingly nice Martin (Jacob Fishel) handles the boring business matters.
Stuart’s girlfriend Marigold (Kristen Bush) is peripherally involved; mostly as a figure of desire, as the story works out. So Stuart perseveres and is branded elitist, brilliant Humphry finishes nothing, the ever-cheating Peter toils as a literary hack and dizzy Nick turns into an alcoholic talking head on TV. Martin stays nice but -- look out -- has his finger in more than just the books.
Gray’s dialogue is enjoyable, the allusions are comfortably high-brow, the acting is mostly all right and the production looks fine. Derek McLane’s settings and Clint Ramos’ costumes capably chart the story’s ongoing years and styles. Time passes agreeably for viewers, if not for several of the play’s characters.
It is curious to see that the show is directed by Moises Kaufman, who usually stages more adventurous works like “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” and “Gross Indecency.” A small, neat, quiet play like “The Common Pursuit” can’t be much of a challenge for his gifts and there is something slightly perfunctory about this otherwise solid production.
Really, Caryl Churchill’s screwy “Cloud Nine” sex comedy is more Kaufman’s speed as a director than Gray’s mild-mannered study in wasted potential. Maybe next time Roundabout should ask Kaufman to revive a brilliant British play like that one – and risk waking up some of their subscribers.
“The Common Pursuit” continues through July 29 at the Steinberg Center, 111 W. 46th St., New York. Call (212) 719-1300 or visit www.roundabouttheatre.org.