Thursday, April 11, 2013

Searching for Utopia at The Madrid

There is so much a playwright can learn when attending a new play. You see what works in the piece, what doesn't. How a cast and a director can take the piece and make it come alive. How important structure is to taking an audience on the journey.

After attending a performance last evening, I read people's comments on the NY Times theater review for “The Madrid” at the Manhattan Theater Club. It seemed as if the average theater-goer was not enjoying their experience at New York City Center. Written by Liz Flahive and directed by Leigh Silverman, I personally couldn't help but feel at times the two were at odds with each other: not sure of the tone they wanted to convey in the evening.

Edie Falco plays Martha: a teacher who is 'done' with it all. She leaves her classroom and her family and we spend an entire act trying to figure out what is going on and why. The daughter recently out of college returns to live with her father and take up her mother's life. We meet neighbors who speak of how much they miss Martha. Everyone misses Martha. Yet the Martha we have seen doesn't seem like someone you would miss.

And then we get to act II and we discover the unending string of times Martha has wanted to leave the family before and yet she longs to have a relationship with her daughter: the person that seems to have been the cause for her wanting to leave – that she wanted to give up motherhood. (Is this making sense to you?) It doesn't make a lot of sense on stage either. And yet, there is something very moving about it and left me so melancholy. (Strange for a show billed as a comedy.) For those that know the musical "Next To Normal" - I see similar themes running in both. It's just that “The Madrid” doesn't ever quit 'get' there. 

Edie Falco is an amazing actress and I love to see her perform. But I get the sense she's not always certain of Martha's decisions either. Yet some of the scenes between her and the daughter (Phoebe Strole) are so real and raw. Frances Sternhagen plays a grandmother teetering on the edge of alzheimer's, but the comic relief she brings to the show feels like it belongs in a different play. (I saw Sternhagen in “Driving Miss Daisy” many, many years ago and loved seeing her again.) There are quirky moments that pop up - I suppose as the author stating that life is never black and white. There is comedy in every dramatic situation. We long for things we don't have: that "Madrid/Utopia" that will make us happy...but we don't always achieve it.

The play has a feel like an indie film and I almost believe pacing and theme would probably be better in film. This may be one of the reasons so many of those comments I first mentioned had such a tough time with the play. For me, it wasn’t the best show I’ve ever seen – but it did bring up many questions for people to carry out of the theater about marriage, relationships, and put me in a very philosophical mood.

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