February 23, 2019

How She Survives: Strategies for Women on London Stages

How She Survives: Strategies for Women on London Stages


Anna Fleischle’s set and costumes are a retro-stylist’s delight. And much of the fun of the show, snappily directed by Tamara Harvey, comes from seeing how Judy and Johnny are liberated and, ultimately, imprisoned by these period accouterments.

Ms. Wade, best known for the boy’s club-eviscerating play “Posh,” knows her craft. She turns her “Home” inside out with a plot borrowed from Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” refracted through the gaze of a woman who actually wants to be a doll. This reworked story is ultimately stretched too thin to sustain much tension.

But Ms. Parkinson (of AMC’s “Humans” and a fabulous Masha in the Royal Court “Seagull” in 2007) inflects Judy’s willful domestic blissfulness with a subconscious note of squeaky dissonance. The way Judy walks (and dances and cleans house) with heavy tread in high heels is one of the best arguments ever made for the absurdity of such footwear.

“Lucy Barton,” a 100-minute monologue directed with penetrating calm by Richard Eyre, is about a different kind of search for selfhood. Lucy, a fiction writer, remembers being bed-bound in a hospital in New York City, where she is visited by her mother, whom she hadn’t seen in many years. (Tellingly, her husband, with whom she has two young daughters, is afraid of hospitals, and is seldom there.) The encounter inspires recollections of a dirt-poor, love-starved childhood in rural Illinois, where Lucy experienced abuse that almost resists description.

One of the most unaffected and transparent of contemporary actresses, Ms. Linney is the perfect conduit for Ms. Strout’s lucid, direct prose. As she assumes both parts in Lucy’s dialogue with her austere, judgmental mother, you may at first feel like you’re eavesdropping on a rather mundane conversation.

But an ever-deepening complexity emerges from such seeming simplicity. This is writing — and acting — that grows in power without your being aware of it, and the tears it elicits feel both surprising and natural.

More than any of the struggling, often confused women I encountered during these three productions, Lucy becomes aware of who and what she is. Such knowledge hasn’t been acquired easily, and it comes at the price of great loneliness. But when Ms. Linney finally speaks the words of the title, just before the play ends, it is a triumph of self-assertion — gentle but glorious, and unconditionally earned.



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