The Theatreguide.London Review
Wyndham's Theatre Summer 2019
Kenneth Lonergan's quiet
little play as so low-key and gossamer as to barely be there. It tells the
story of a man so self-effacing and personality-less as to barely be
And, despite some excellent
acting and a few decent laughs, the play's effect on you is likely to be
just as fleeting and minimal.
Matthew Broderick plays a
middle-aged failed scientist reduced to lecturing on elementary astronomy
to drop-in students at New York's planetarium.
He has a passive-aggressive
wife (Elizabeth McGovern, getting co-star billing for what is little more
than a walk-on role) he hardly speaks to, an offstage teenage son he
connects to even less, but somehow a pretty nice suburban home.
He's not a particularly good
teacher, unable to do much with students ranging from the comically
ignorant ('Is Mars a moon?') to the comically presumptuous ('I've graded
you as a teacher in these categories.').
And then, improbably, he
begins an affair with a Puerto Rican single mother training to be a nurse.
Mildly good things happen to
him, very bad things happen to her, and then life goes on, with the man
about as untouched and unchanged by his adventures as you are likely to be
by the play.
Oh, and there's a subplot of
sorts about an old man in hospital, being tended by the student nurse, and
his strained relations with his daughter – and I must confess that I have
no idea what those scenes are doing in this play, except perhaps to
provide perspective for the triviality of the central character's story.
Matthew Broderick is an actor
of immense personal charm, but he and director Sam Yates have chosen to
completely suppress his personality in a performance of wooden and
affect-less emptiness. The man happy, the man sad, the man lecturing, the
man in love are all equally robotic and distanced from himself and
everything around him.
It is, I suppose, a
remarkable acting achievement, but it would seem more appropriate to a
play by Pinter or Beckett than to what seems to want to be a quirky
rom-com, a kind of gentle (and gentile) Woody Allen-ish slice of life in
New York City.
Far more interesting and
attractive is the performance of newcomer Rosalind Eleazar as the woman
who goes into the love affair with a New Yorker's – even a working-class
New Yorker's – casualness and limited expectations but a greater capacity
for fully valuing and enjoying it than Broderick's character ever has.
And when the worst thing in
the world happens to her we not only believe and feel her experience
fully, but judge her lover to his detriment by the gap between her
capacity for emotion and his.
About Elizabeth McGovern
there is little to say. She is effective in one strong scene near the end
that shows there is more to her character than the just-passing-through
stereotype she was up to then.
The play is set in 1997 when
New York's landmark Hayden Planetarium was demolished and replaced, and
the single longest and most passionate speech in the play comes at the
very end, as Matthew Broderick's character muses on what an adventure it
was for a child to discover science in those beautiful surroundings.
Of course it has very little to do with the rest of the play. But it's nice.
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