By Eugene Paul
you’re going to find yourself in a nursing home – oops – an adult living
facility, who wouldn’t want to take over the whole, pleasant space we see if
all you had to do was make yourself poisonous to anyone designated to share
those desirable quarters in upscale Bristol Place, a Retirement Center. Abby
Binder (icily aloof Holland Taylor) likes being alone there and was damned
determined to stay alone. She would just drive that too too jolly old bag
Marilyn Dunne (top flight Marylouise Burke) out of HER room just by being as
rotten to her as she could be and she could be pretty damn rotten. In a nice
way, of course. Abby was a lady. At first. And when the damn happykins just
kept on turning the other cheek – how many goddam cheeks did she have, anyway?
–Abby was going to up the ante. Up the wazoo.
there you have the framework of playwright David Lindsay-
new, acrid comedy commissioned by the Manhattan Theatre Club, his sixth work
for that worthy organization which, praise be, has the grace to produce new
works, not just reworks of reworks. However, you gotta take your chances and
sometimes you luck out and sometimes you don’t. And this time, it’s kind of in
the middle. In spite of everybody trying so hard. Set designer Alexander
Dodge, costume designer Jennifer von Mayrhauser, lighting designer Peter
Kaczorowski, and actors Nate Miller, Glenn Fitzgerald, Marylouise Burke, Rachel
Dratch, Daoud Heidami working like hell. Not Holland Taylor. She’s phoning it
in. Just another TV sitcom and the hell with it. And maybe it is, but if she
really bit into the role and the show, there’d be a lot more there.
David Lindsay-Abaire is no slouch. Underneath the froth, there’s a
substantial, sustaining broth but it has to be delivered by the bitter,
savagely droll Abby who has chosen these living quarters to eke out the rest of
her unhappy days, and we want to know why. Lindsay-Abaire has set in the hook,
he’s reeled us in, just so far, and stops? Why? Isn’t that what this play is
really about? Because when he stops, it gives Holland Taylor too much excuse to
slack off. And she does. Why? In other work I’ve seen her knock it out of the
park. And why does director David Hyde Pierce let her?
Marylouise Burke and Rachel Dratch
Lindsay-Abaire ups the fripperies factor he ladles on the TV formula show.
These two ladies take their differences to the dirty betting stage: first one
to cave in the struggle for possessing that nice room is the loser. The bet?
That Abby can make irrepressibly ebullient Marilyn lose her temper, that
Marilyn can make Abby lose her icy cool. Petty? Nutso? Potential for nasty?
Burke, Holland Taylor and Nate Miller photos by Joan Marcus
of course, the battle is staged: one venue, the haunted fun house, all that
childish ghoulishness. Another: the daredevil sky diving competition. And the
“gotchas”. Such “gotchas”. Which gives the stage crews lots and lots to do in
sheer effort but does not convince us at all because who’s going to spend half
a million on a couple of scenes to really persuade us? Especially Off-
Broadway? No, we’re supposed to use our imaginations and if not convinced,
well, we just didn’t go with the flow.
with the flow is problematic anyway, if you don’t buy the premise. Playwright
Lindsay-Abaire hasn’t made his case, which is odd, because he’s certainly
capable enough. And not to have one of his leads buy in is another. True,
Abaire hasn’t given her enough but she’s a big girl, she signed on. Deal with
it. She almost does in the second act, and then the darnedst thing happens.
Taylor and Glenn Fitzgerald
confronted by a most unwelcome visitor from her past (splendid Glenn
Fitzgerald) who tries to leave her a snapshot of a grandchild she never knew
she had. And icy Abby thaws. Even that ditz, Marilyn is tolerable. How do we
know she thaws? Abby goes shopping, and empties the shopping bag on her bed.
It’s baby clothes. That is the “Awww” moment. And while she and Marilyn are
tenderly folding the little garments, does that send another “Awww” message?
Well, yes, but – these are baby clothes. That grandchild she’s bought them for
is three years old. What’s going on?
greatly enjoyed Nate Miller as the caring young nursing home attendant who is
convinced he’s a good actor, and he is. Marylouise Burke does her ditziness to
perfection, making you alternately want to hug her or strangle her. And
there’s something deeper underneath which is very enriching. Holland Taylor
the City Center. 131 West 55th Street. Tickets: $90. 212-581-1212. 2 hrs. Thru