Linney Photo by: Matthew Murphy
My Name Is Lucy Barton
By Fern Siegel
actress Laura Linney (The Little Foxes, Time Stands Still) can
probably count on another nomination for her exquisite performance in My
Name Is Lucy Barton, a solo play based on the Elizabeth Strout novel.
Lucy Brown recounts her nine-week stay in a Manhattan hospital after a
life-threatening illness, she takes the audience on a haunting journey of love
and loss. This is a story of the emotionally and economically impoverished —
and the pathology of pathos that inevitably haunts successive
adapted by Rona Munro and deftly directed by Richard Eyre, the riveting drama
is a meditation on the ties that bind. The tissue that connects parents and
children, particularly in poverty, is explored with a sensitive, but unflinching
eye. There is no sentimentality in endurance or restraint.
a writer and the mother of two daughters, is married to the son of a German
POW. Lucy’s father, tortured by his WWII memories, is an interesting
counterpoint. He is never seen, but his presence looms large. Similarly, Lucy’s
husband never visits; he is unnerved by hospitals. So he enlists her mother, a
stoic woman estranged from Lucy, to provide solace.
visit is telling. Her mother has come from a farm community in Amgash,
Illinois. On a plane for the only time in her life, she sits in her daughter’s
hospital room for days on end, sharing stories of other people. Linney
perfectly captures her mother’s voice and gestures. It may be a solo play, but
thanks to her strong performance, there are always two people on stage.
there is a lot to unpack.
begin, Lucy’s recitation of her childhood is harrowing. She and her two
siblings grew up in an isolated farmhouse, with the barest of amenities. Money
is scare, but so is any real connection with the outside world, save for
school, which proves Lucy’s salvation. This is a family of the dispossessed,
eking out a lonely existence where love, sensitivity or support does not exist.
This is the America of the rural underclass: Suffering is embedded in their
irony is that even when her mother regales her with stories of neighbors or
pseudo-friends, they have an elegiac quality. No one can secure any real
happiness. To Lucy’s credit, she finds a way out of poverty, but not fear,
anxiety or regret. So primal is her quest for connection, that even as her
mother discourages an alliance, Lucy longs to claim one.
Tennyson once wrote: “I am a part of all that I
have met.” Strout would endorse that sentiment, but notes in Lucy
Barton that awareness does not equate with healing. We can mourn what we
never had, but we never stop seeking that primal attachment with our past,
however conflicted the relationship.
trauma is also what Lucy understands. As she gently explains the circumstances
of her illness, life and marriage, we see Luke Halls’ landscapes — rural and
urban — flash behind her. From lush green fields to the impressive Chrysler
Building, Lucy is defined by the architecture of time and place. Both have a
hold on her heart. So does her passion for writing. When a fellow writer
encourages her to be “ruthless,” she comes to understand that literature is her
anchor in an ever-changing world.
beautifully calibrates her performance; her riveting recitation of Lucy’s
journey commands our attention and respect. It underscores the myriad ways
people react to each other, and the deep wellspring of youthful pain that can
remain for a lifetime. Patterns repeat, desires are realized, thwarted and
begun anew. Lucy Barton is a quiet, contemplative piece on the nature of
existence — and therein lays its power.
My Name Is Lucy Barton, Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W.
Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. Through Feb. 29.