by A.R. Gurney
What’s in a name?
More than 125 years ago, the fashion of wearing black tie was imported from Europe to America and more than 55 years ago, A. R. Gurney wrote his first play, beginning a life long obsession with the conflict between generations, the replacement of traditional refinement with modern brashness and the waning of the white Protestant elite’s social dominance.
Not everybody can be expected to have read the latest guides to social etiquette and act accordingly, but everyone can be expected to think about what is the appropriate way to act in various social situations. Etiquette isn’t just something you need on formal occasions. It’s about how to behave every day, in different settings, to make interactions between people pleasant. Etiquette doesn’t exist to add a layer of extra rules to life – it’s there to guide us on how to treat each other with kindness and consideration in our personal and professional lives.
Classic Black Tie has not only survived more than one hundred years of adversity but has evolved into an icon of male elegance in the process. Its allure has been immortalized by some of the best dressers of the twentieth century from bon vivants Cole Porter and Noel Coward, to suave hipsters Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra to the fictional playboy superspy, James Bond.
For the wearer the magic begins the moment he dons this last remnant of upper-class attire. While any good suit will transform a boy into a man, classic black tie elevates a man into a gentleman. It employs ingenious aesthetic techniques to make the wearer look taller, stronger and younger, the embodiment of the male ideal. “Nature created men unequally,” the Wall Street Journal once observed, “tuxedos were invented to even the score.”
It should be a serious subject in America especially, because we lack a convenient system of inherited titles, ranks, and honors, and each generation has to define the hierarchies all over again. The society changes faster than any other on earth, and the American, almost uniquely, can be puzzled about where, in the society, he stands. The things that conferred class in the 1930’s – white linen, golf knickers, chrome cocktail shakers, vests with white piping – are unlikely to do so today. Belonging to a rapidly changing rather than a traditional society, Americans find Knowing Where You Stand harder than do most Europeans. And a yet more pressing matter.
I can think of no European city a more apt place to premiere this A.R. Gurney play than Vienna, and no other theatre more suited than Vienna’s English Theatre. A. R. (Pete) Gurney shared with me that he is “delighted to have Black Tie premiere in Vienna … the third of my plays to be done at their theatre … in a good space with a responsive audience … of which I have the fondest of memories.”
I share in Mr. Gurney’s delight and welcome the audiences of Vienna to enjoy this evening of great theatre.