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Posts Tagged ‘Martha Plimpton’

This is a fine example of that rare species, the blue-collar play. Lynn Nottage’s 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning work does more to help you understand recent events in the US than any number of newspaper articles or TV documentaries, and it does so by focusing on the lives of just eight people in the industrial town of Reading PA.

Most of the scenes are set in Mike’s Bar in 2000 when America is going through things not unlike 80’s Britain. The NAFTA deal is seeing production move to Mexico, union power is waning, leading to much less generous contracts, which if declined result in cheaper temps, mostly hispanic, being hired. People are losing jobs and homes and addiction levels rise.

Three friends who work together on the shop floor of a local factory meet in the bar after work and on each other’s birthdays. Stan the barman used to work with them until he was injured. His Puerto Rican assistant Oscar aspires to a job there. African American Cynthia’s estranged husband Brucie has been on strike at another plant for a long time. She aspires to promotion and her son Chris, also in the plant, to escape through education. Widow Tracey and her son Jason and singleton Jessie are her friends and colleagues. Cynthia gets her promotion which gives her insight into the company’s plans. When all of their worlds begin to crumble, they turn on one another as well as the perpetrators of their plight, racism rears its ugly head, relationships disintegrate and tragedy ensues. Three scenes take us forward eight years to see how things work out. The ending packs a real emotional punch.

It’s a superbly written play, really well structured. The bar is towered over by an impressionistic factory in Frankie Bradshaw’s excellent design. The performances are as authentic as the writing, an absolutely stunning ensemble, with Martha Plimpton making a very welcome visit to these shores. It’s great to see Lynette Linton, a director the Donmar (and other theatres) have nurtured, get such a high profile gig, and she really rises to the occasion with a faultless staging, a great omen for her forthcoming role as Bush Theatre AD.

If you’re puzzled why people voted Trump or Brexit, this thoroughly researched, objective play will help you understand without lecturing, hectoring or preaching. It’s one of my three best new plays of 2018 (though I cheated a bit because it was my first of 2019). Go!

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I wasn’t planning on seeing this, but it’s got Clare Higgins in it and I have no willpower, so off to the Old Vic in-the-round we go. It’s their second season reconfigured and it really is a much better space, but the play proves a bit static.

Set on Christmas Eve in Palm Springs a few years after 9/11, the Wyeth family – mother, father, son, daughter and sister / sister-in-law / aunt – have assembled for the festive season. Lyman is a retired actor turned republican politician and his wife Polly a friend of Nancy Reagan. Son Trip – a TV producer – and daughter Brooke – a writer – vere to the left. Polly’s sister Silda is out of rehab, again. This game of happy families is upset when Brooke reveals the biographical nature of her next book, which triggers a real life game of truth or lie.

Jon Robin Baitz’s play examines post-9/11 American politics and sensibilities through this one family’s recent history. It’s a perfectly believable scenario and the story and writing is good, but I didn’t really like any of the self-obsessed characters and didn’t warm to the play. I admired Lindsay Posner’s staging, though, and the performances are all good. Dame Clare does her best with an underwritten role, Sinead Cusack is initially unrecognisable as Polly, all big hair and power dressing, and Peter Egan looks ever inch the actor-poitician. Daniel Lapaine and Martha Plimpton feel like real siblings; Plimpton’s role carries the play and she’s very impressive.

Though I’m glad I saw it, I’m not sure it’s worthy of such a high profile West End production. If I’d seen it Off-West End or on the fringe, I think my expectations would have been better met. The Old Vic doesn’t have a good track record with new plays, so I’m looking forward to the next pair of revivals in this great reinvented space.

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