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A CurtainUp Review
The Madrid

It’s my apartment. Where I live now. — Martha

Are you okay? Mentally. I’m not being a bitch, but you might need to take something. Or see someone. This is crazy. This looks crazy. Aren’t you going to try and make it nice. — Sarah

No. (handing her the beer and the opener.) —Martha
The Madrid
Edie Falco
(Photo credit: Joan Marcus)
One has to assume from the start of Liz Flahive’s very strange play, The Madrid, that someone with a strong feeling and a genuine need to run away from their job, their home and all family obligations is harboring a very real, possibly more pervasive than we realize, neurosis. This mental state, a condition that seems likely to cause maternal and marital, perhaps occupational, claustrophobia is apparently what is applicable to forty-eight year old Martha (Edie Falco). She's the play’s central character, a kindergarten teacher, who has just barely managed to hold on to her recurring tendency to simply pack up and leave it all behind her, and for whatever it’s worth, does.

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 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.

The Madrid
By Liz Flahive
Directed by Leigh Silverman

Cast: Edie Falco (Martha), Brooke Ashley Laine (Little Girl), Phoebe Strole (Sarah), Heidi Schreck (Becca), Christopher Evan Welch (Danny), John Ellison Conlee (John), Frances Sternhagen (Rose), Seth Clayton (Dyland)
Scenic Design: David Zinn
Costume Design: Emily Rebholz
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Jill BC DuBoff
Original Music: Tom Kitt
Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission
Manhattan Theatre Club Stage 1, 131 West 55th Street
(212) 581 – 1212
Tickets: $85.00
Performances: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8pm. Matinees on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. From 02/05/13 Opened 02/26 Ends 04/21/13
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