Women's Stresses

What women want, in Maria Irene Fornes's gnomic and darkly wise Enter the Night, is the same thing men want: someone they can't have, a life they're not suited for, hopes the world's bound to crush. The three dear friends who make up its cast—a gay man, a lesbian, and a straight woman—are a trio of left-hand gloves trying vainly to make a pair. At the same time, they struggle with their own personal griefs, plus the big ones the outside world provides. Their struggle is echoed by Fornes's own, visibly contorted efforts to make sense and shape of their drama. In terse, deadpan scenes, uninflected by the explanations that more busybodyish dramatists provide, she lets us see them at work, at play, and in the grip of sexual fantasy or ritual. Now and then she opens a quick door for us, again without explanation or inflection, onto the world of their dreams, not even pausing to tell us which one's doing the dreaming. Rock-solid and evanescent as quicksilver, the play's as maddening as it is hypnotic; I think it's either my favorite Fornes play or the only one I can't stand. Among its liabilities is the large amount of prior data needed to follow its track: The three characters derive a certain "Oriental" acceptance of their sorrows from old American movies; screening Lost Horizon and Broken Blossoms before you visit the theater is recommended. Sonja Moser's production, though uncertain of touch, scoops up any number of lucidly grave, genuinely Fornesian moments as it veers from overdoing to underdone. A great many of them are made, plangently, by Barbara Tarbuck as the older of the two women, and many more are evoked by the haunting slices and washes of Jane Cox's lights.

Audra McDonald as Marie Christine, with children: How do you solve a problem like Medea?
photo: Joan Marcus
Audra McDonald as Marie Christine, with children: How do you solve a problem like Medea?

Details

Marie Christine
By Michael John LaChiusa
Vivian Beaumont Theatre
Lincoln Center 212-362-7600

Enter the Night
By Maria Irene Fornes
Signature Theatre
555 West 42nd Street 212-244-7529

Trudy Blue
By Marsha Norman
Manhattan Class Company
120 West 28th Street 212-727-7765

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What women want, in worst-case syndrome, is easy for even a man to guess: They want not to be characters in something like Marsha Norman's Trudy Blue, the non-story of a novelist with cancer who equates her current fictional avatar with her metastasis. What that conveys about Norman's view of writing may explain why we haven't heard much from her recently. Most of the play takes place in the heroine's head as she juggles and rewrites what are essentially the elements of a single brief scene; I can't remember the last time I was in a place I wanted to escape so fast. Among the excellent actors trapped on the reef of Norman's woe are Pamela Isaacs, Judith Roberts, Sarah Knowlton, and John Dossett; they and their colleagues deserve something better than Michael Sexton's unyieldingly shrill, abrasive production. The voice of plucky Polly Draper, who plays the heroine, is probably such a pale shred of itself from yelling back at it. Both script and staging, incidentally, use some of the same tactics as Wit, which began its New York life in the same theater. You could call this one Half Wit.

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