By David Schultz
playwright Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother, and forthcoming The
Son) has attempted the same magic that made The Father such a heart
wrenching theatrical experience a few seasons ago. Frank Langella perfectly
captured the emotional disarray of a man on the precipice of losing his grip on
reality as he slid into Alzheimer’s. His memory, taste, sounds all fading away
incrementally. The construction of the play was like a ticking time bomb, as
the audience experienced his loss of memory with shifting scenes of
playwright Zeller aims his sights on the Mother aspect. No relation to his
previous play here…no, this new play attempts to do the same thing again. But
this time the plot revolves around a woman of a certain age on the precipice of
losing her grip on reality. Hmm…why that sounds familiar.
advertising to pique the interest of the potential theatergoer is short and
sweet. (Quote) “Can one love one’s son too much? Anne has given everything to
the family she’s built. Now the years have gone by, and her children have grown
up and have lives of their own, leaving her alone in a world that is crumbling
around her.” (Unquote). A woman, unmoored, slowly losing her grip and going
mad, her vision of reality slowly refracted into shards of discordant memories.
Sounds like a fun-filled evening. Don’t worry it isn’t, by a long shot. The
saving grace in this production is the woman in question. Isabelle Hubbert’s
impassioned portrait is compelling and feverish with a growing intensity during
the 90-minute intermission less production.
& Chris Noth photos by Ahron Foster
tone is set on the outset, with Ms. Hubbert sitting on an extraordinarily long
white couch. As she lazily reads a book onstage, she looks up and scans the
audience slyly. This is even before the play begins, as the audience settles
into their seats, Ms. Hubbert sizes them up cryptically. The eerie mood is set.
She is just biding her time…waiting for her husband to arrive home. Her distant
and cool as ice husband of 25 years is going away on a conference in Buffalo. Peter (Chris Noth) is distracted and asks her how her day was. The strain of
their marriage is palatable, as she testily accuses him of having an affair…no
proof, just feminine instinct. As she repeats back at him with increasing venom
“How about you? How was your day?” This short staccato back and forth is then
repeated with slight variation akin to an endless loop. Black out scenes segue
into the same scenario again and again. This verbal jibber-jabber replays in
duplicate, then triplicate. Playwright Edward Albee had his share of fun with
recapitulation, so it seems this too is going down that well-worn road.
& Justice Smith
aching need to connect with her son Nicolas (Justice Smith) is taking its toll.
He has not been in touch for a long time. His current girlfriend Emily (Odessa
Young) has occupied all of his time. But wait…Anne discovers that her son has
returned, in the middle of the night. A bitter fight has transpired between the
couple; hence the son has come home to roost and heal his wounds with Mommy.
Anne takes advantage of her opportunity and tries to pursue her way through
his emotions to recharge their relationship and heal old wounds. More than a
whiff of Oedipal stirrings are in the air. Husband Peter goes off to his
conference, and his lover in waiting…. perhaps.
the evening wears on, Anne goes into increasingly higher emotional states,
clinging to her son. Naturally Emily does show up looking for Nicolas, with
Anne coming between them. The emotional frenzy, well-orchestrated by director
Trip Cullman goes into crazy, loopy overtime. It may dawn on some viewers that
this entire experience with husband, son, girlfriend is actually going on in
her mind, and that none of this is happening in real time.
odd logic of the play and the fractured visual and aural design of the evening
is definitely disorienting. The lighting design by Ben Stanton becomes harsher
and white hot as the evening commences. The surreal distorted evening is given
even more heft and mystery as for example girlfriend Emily shows up in a slinky
red dress when looking for Nicolas, then finding Anne whirling about like a
dervish in the same aforementioned red dress. Coincidence? Competing for
son/lover? The two women melding into a doppelganger? This scintillating visual
is left to each viewer to ponder, not unlike a Rorschach test. Internal
monologues clash with insanely odd verbal arias as Anne spirals downward into
madness. This French…very French treatise is gripping but in the light of day,
doesn’t really shed any new light on this sad woman’s coping, rather badly, and
losing her mind with empty nest syndrome. A life that has lost its purpose,
presuming she had any to begin with is writ large in this play. Nothing overtly
original within its hemmed in confines is to be gleaned. Nope. The electrical
current that beats in ever rapidly alarming beats per minute is created by Ms.
Hubbert’s revelatory performance. She is pitiable, and bone chilling in equal
parts, sometimes simultaneously. That and that alone make this rather
predictable Mondo drama worthwhile.
West 20th Street
thru April 11th
List at Box Office