You may have noticed that Broadway Select wasn’t around for about a week. Damn those hackers! In the interim, I kept busy with theatergoing.
MISS AMERICA’S UGLY DAUGHTER is Barra Grant’s story about growing up as Bess Myerson’s child.
In 1945, Myerson was the first Jewish woman to ever win the then-coveted crown. She still is.
Myerson’s sway over Gotham was potent well into the ‘70s; many insist that Ed Koch couldn’t have been elected mayor had he not secured her enthusiastic endorsement.
But was she a good mother? Grant tells us that if a girl isn’t pretty like a Miss Atlantic City all she gets in life is – well, in this case, not pity and pat. Myerson apparently delivered insensitive remarks and metaphorical socks in the jaw.
Growing up in the shadow of an icon must be tough stuff. If Grant is indeed remembering her life with mother accurately and fairly, she does deserve our sympathy. Even her stories apart from her mother’s incessant phone calls in the wee small hours of the morning make us feel for her.
However, she can’t win our admiration as an actress. As Grant drones through her okay script, we find that she has a voice somewhere between Louise Lasser and Carol Channing. She’s very hard to take.
“That’s quite a different one-woman show from the one we saw last night,” my girlfriend exclaimed as we made our way out of the Marjorie Deane Playhouse. Indeed; the previous evening we were at the Samuel Friedman Theatre and in the august company of Laura Linney. There the four-time Tony-nominee is performing MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON.
“I’d go to see her read the phone book” was a once-famous expression that people would use to indicate slavish fan devotion to a performer. Now that we don’t seem to have phone books anymore, I’d pay to see Laura Linney read a financial report from Pfizer.
Yes, but as effective and engaging as she is, Rona Munro, who adapted MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON from Elizabeth Strout’s novel, should have created a two-person play. It has the conflict awaiting it: Mother vs. Daughter. The two haven’t spoken in years, but now that Lucy has fallen seriously ill, Mom feels the need to show up in her hospital room.
Linney is marvelous at showing the age between the two. The way she has Mom ease herself into a chair shows a hardscrabble life that’s worn her down. Note the judgmental smack she gives the cover of a magazine that contains an article with which she disagrees.
As the daughter, Linney holds in her true feelings for her mother – for a while, anyway. The old bromide has it that “a watched pot never boils,” but you must watch Linney boil over when Lucy absolutely cannot avoid it.
A few rows of chairs flank the stage where you may opt to sit, all the better to see Linney, my dear. Indeed, you will, for Linney – unlike lesser performers in this situation who ignore those seated on stage – knows you’re there and will play to you as much as possible.
When the very womanly Sarah Bernhardt played Hamlet, she kept him as a young man; now at Theatre for a New Audience’s British import of TIMON OF ATHENS, Kathryn Hunter is playing the title character who’s distinctly a woman. The words “she” and “lady” pepper the text where Shakespeare and Thomas Middleton (so says the title page) used “he” and “lord.”
It’s still the story of a generous person who gives away too much to friends; now that poverty has reared its ugly head, torso and legs, Timon (not Timonia, by the way) expects all her ol’ pals to come through. What a devastating disappointment she endures when they don’t.
There’s nothing wrong with changing the sex of the character, but you’d better have someone who can do it, and director Simon Godwin does not. Kathryn Hunter is a much-acclaimed British actress who won an Oliver Award for her Clara in THE VISIT; that, however, was in 1991, and one presumes from this performance that Hunter’s voice was substantially stronger lo those 29 years ago.
Time has made it hollow, prematurely gray and not easy to understand. Those are true liabilities in a Shakespeare play where language is to be savored. Here’s hoping that Hunter had a bad cold the week that I attended.
Even if Hunter had been enduring a 24-hour illness, the plain truth is that she’s terribly melodramatic and, to use an Ogden Nash expression, “actressy.” She’s a diminutive woman, and she works her arms and legs as if she’s a marionette whose strings are being pulled.
One final word: TIMON OF ATHENS has a scene that involves urine. Godwin plays it to the max to the point of virtual audience participation. If that scares you, don’t get a front-row seat.
Bess Wohl’s GRAND HORIZONS has caused some reviewers to call it a sitcom or invoke the name of Neil Simon. It’s much more than that, for it has two salient points that are worth making.
Because Nancy and Bill have decided to get a divorce rather than “celebrate” their upcoming golden wedding anniversary, their grown sons are aghast. They want their parents to stay together now and forever. Both would feel better and more secure if the marriage continued.
Yeah, but what about Nancy and Bill, who’ve lived together day after day after day after day and now know everything there is to know about each other?
If you’re a parent, you’ll probably admit that after you have a child, your kid turns out to be your boss. That’s– inadvertent, to be sure, but the young ‘un makes you do things for him or her that means you’re not doing something for yourself.
All this is supposed to end when the “child” turns 18, leaves the house for work or college and forges a life of his or her own. Wohl knows better; if you have kids, you’re never free from their judgments. We’ll see if Nancy (the always wonderful Jane Alexander) and Bill (the stalwart James Cromwell) can survive the outrageous demands from their one married son and (of course) one gay one.
Wohl’s other important point involves an extramarital affair that one of the parents is having. (Never mind which one; go see the play to find out.) You wouldn’t expect the interloper to dare come to the couple’s home in Grand Horizons (the name of this senior citizen development). Yet an event does cause the lover (played excellently by the performer) to show up at the top of Act Two.
Now comes Wohl’s second major point, one that’s reminiscent of a sentiment Tom Wolfe wrote in his excellent novel A MAN IN FULL: “First wives marry you for better or for worse; second wives marry you for better.”
GRAND HORIZONS also includes the most machina of dei ex machinae that you’re ever likely to see. Wohl doesn’t wait to deliver it until the end of the second act; the conclusion of Act One is good enough for her.
“Well, THAT woke me up,” the gentleman in front of me told his female companion. He may have been asleep, but I certainly wasn’t. Bess Wohl always held my interest with her on-the-money perceptions of marriage, children and adultery. If, God forbid, Broadway Select is hacked again, I’ll spend my time making a return visit.