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A CurtainUp Review
There is a hint of what is in store for Martha and for those who care about her in a short prologue. It takes place in the school room where she is showing the class drawings and stories submitted by the youngsters, only to suddenly suggest to a most precocious little girl (Brooke Ashley Laine) that she take over as the teacher. Putting her sweater on the amused girl’s shoulders, Martha says, “Keep going, I know you can do it.” She then leaves the room. And, as we soon find out she has also left her family – without a trace. That includes her husband John (John Ellison Conlee), a high school history teacher; Sarah (Phoebe Strole), her twenty-two year old daughter who has just graduated from college, and Rose (Frances Sternhagen) her aging mother who has already been feeling the effects of progressive dementia.
In what is essentially the play’s first of many puzzling and even confounding scenes that unfortunately don’t lead to a satisfying conclusion, John has already been aggressively packing up whatever Martha has left behind. He's also preparing all the home’s furnishings for a major sale. Long-time 30-something friends and neighbors, Becca (Heidi Schreck) and Danny (Christopher Evan Welch), are there for support, if also without a clue to Martha’s whereabouts even though Becca and Martha have been close friends. On the other hand, it's revealed that Danny has some carefully suppressed psycho-sexual needs but his history with young ladies is an embellishment that is only fleetingly addressed and becomes a kind of red-herring.
John is sullen, confused but apparently not angry at this awkward juncture in his life. Sarah has, with her Dad’s connections, been able to get a job as a substitute teacher while also working nights at a local Starbucks. It's quite a shock for Sarah when her mother walks quite matter-of-factly into the store one evening and begins a casual conversation with her. It seems that she has been living in an inner city apartment building, a real dump called The Madrid and invites Sarah over to see it, possibly have a beer and spend a night — but without offering any reasons or explanations. She does disclose that she has cashed in her life insurance policy and has been working un-paid in a bar where she is an emcee on talent night.
One might think that Flahive, who in 2008 won the John Gassner Playwriting Award from the Outer Critics Circle for her first play From Up Here (also produced by the Manhattan Theater Club) would have some cute trick or unconventional contrivance up her sleeve when Martha gives Sarah $10,000 (kept in a tin box in the kitchen) as a bribe not to tell her father about the meeting (of which there will be more), but hopefully as a propellant to make Sarah, do as she has done, and go out on her own.
If Flahive’s intention is to illuminate how easily our repressed desires and our need to be self-fulfilled can be both attained and assuaged and done with a minimum of hurt and harm to those we presume to love and who love us is certainly a subject worth exploring. However, she seems to want to exploit it without exploring its dramatic potential. Leigh Silverman who's once again her director of choice at MTC keeps the rather dully developed convolutions of the painfully slow-moving plot in play. The actors just seem as if they are being pulled along for the ride. The various simply functional settings by David Zinn, that include a living room, inside and outside a bar, and the room in The Madrid, are also pulled into place with a little more purposefulness.T
Falco doesn’t have it in her to be a less than an interesting actor (House of Blue Leaves and Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune on Broadway and, of course, The Sopranos and Nurse Jackie on TV). She does what she can to invest some idiosyncratic behavior, even a little bit of singing — "Tonight You Belong to Me" as you have never heard it before — in a role that seems to be more of a disappearing act than the actual character she is playing. Strole is fine as the conflicted daughter who is left with the decision to string it out or stick it out.
What can one say about the ever hopeful and yet resigned John who, as commendably played by Conlee, is not above considering the possibilities offered by Match.com. Are we surprised that Sternhagen embraces her dementia valiantly and her every line with the verve of an old pro? Seth Clayton is making an impressive Off-Broadway debut as Becca and Danny’s socially awkward son Dylan. He’s afflicted with Osgood-Schlatter disease, a painful swelling of the bump on the upper part of the shinbone, just below the knee. It’s obvious that he can’t easily run far from his home. What a shame.
A final thought: Flahive is a producer on Showtime's Nurse Jackie so wone can imagine her telling Falco, “Have I got a role for you.” Too bad it wasn't as wonderful an offer as Falco deserves.
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