“Pru Payne” – Arizona Theatre Company

Theater Review – April 2, 2023


Arizona Theatre Company, Center Stage, Herberger Theater Center
Phoenix, AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

Arizona rarely sees world premiere plays and often when plays begin here they aren’t stellar.  So, it is wonderful that the Arizona Theatre Company’s “Pru Payne” is such a remarkable piece.  Steven Drukman’s play is a sensitive and touching telling of dementia’s impacts on two very different individuals, one a well-known intellectual and critic, the other a school bus driver/custodian.

The play flashes back and forth between Prudence (Pru) Payne’s prime life as a well-known critic and her current demise as she establishes an endearing relationship with Gus Cudahy, the professed “custodial engineer.”   The pair would probably have never met.  When both are at a research facility exploring the dreaded disease, they develop their partnership.

“Pru Payne” is smartly insightful especially in the impeccable production that is brilliantly cast, sharply staged by former ATC artistic director Sean Daniels, and is spectacularly designed on a multipurpose set that functions as a variety of locales as it eases the play’s adept and fluid pacing.

The play shows Pru at her best but, as the diagnosis becomes definitive, she is checked into the research facility by her son where the disease’s effects are being studied on numerous patients including Gus as the pair’s charming admiration evolves.

Exquisite as Pru, Mimi Kennedy is a revelation.  Although her recent successes have been in television, her fine theatrical background allows her to portray the roles many facets netting an award worthy performance.  Her outbursts are agonizingly real as is her growing infatuation with Gus.

No less astonishing is Gordon Clapp’s nuanced Gus.  Although Gus is less complex than Pru, his tussle with the disease is just as heartfelt.  His directness with Pru helps her deal with the medical challenges she faces as they play off each other with complimentary brilliance.

The supporting cast is also winning. Tristan Turner’s Thomas Payne is tender, touching, and compassionate toward his mother.  Greg Maraio’s Art Cudahy has the same heartfelt sincerity toward Gus and when the two sons meet, another interesting aspect of these characters emerges. Veronika Duerr is in command as the institute head until even she realizes she doesn’t have all the answers.

“Pru Payne” is a stunning artistic achievement.  Rumors are already spreading that the play may be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and it would certainly be an admirable pick.  The remarkable performances, the sharp staging, and the insightful play makes “Pru Payne” a masterpiece local theatergoers should not miss. “Pru Payne” continues through April 16 at the Herberger Theater Center.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the Arizona Theatre Company box office at 833-ATC-SEAT.

Grade: A

One Response to ““Pru Payne” – Arizona Theatre Company”

  1. Brenda Foley said:

    Apr 03, 23 at 20:41

    I appreciate your review of “Pru Payne” (and your insight over the years)

    I would love to invite you to review The Bridge Initiative’s upcoming production of LIKE HEAVEN by Elaine Romero. Opening night is Saturday, May 6th at 7:30. We also have a matinee performance pm Sunday, May 7th at 2:00pm.

    Please let me know if we can expect you. We would love to share this exciting professional world premiere comedy from an Arizona playwright with you! More about our production, which will be directed by guest director Samantha Wyer Bello (former ATC AAD), can be found here: https://www.broadwayworld.com/phoenix/article/Samantha-Wyer-Bello-Directs-World-Premiere-of-LIKE-HEAVEN-at-at-Estrella-Mountain-Community-College-20230315

    Best wishes,
    Brenda Foley