By Tulis McCall
I am confounded. I don’t know what My Name Is Lucy Barton is. I know what it is not. It is not a play. Which, in and of itself might not be a bad thing if a person could latch onto whatever it is and go for a ride. I could not find a latching-on place.
This is a play based on a book of the same name by Elizabeth Strout. I bet that book is a fine and fascinating read – perhaps a bit on the laconic side, as was Olive Kittredge for me. Sometime, however, laconic is exactly what is ordered. As a reader, you have time to sink into the bones and the mind and heart of a person. In this case, that did not work so well.
Lucy’s story is set somewhere in the 1980’s – I think. It was before cell phones became ubiquitous. Lucy was admitted to the hospital here in New York to have her appendix out, but something went kaflooey and she was in the clink for 9 weeks. No one ever found out what was wrong, but it was this period of solitude that affected her. It was a time of reflection, fear and revelation. This is the story she is chasing. This is the one to tell us.
For the most part Lucy is an earnest person. So is Laura Linney, and the combination can be overwhelming. Earnest combined with earnestness. Where Linney shines is when she becomes her mother. The mother that Lucy has not seen since before she married and moved to New York. Mother is a razor like creature full of tales they way hot houses are full of plants. She is not huggable or comforting – except she is, just by her being there. The mere presence of this woman is a comfort to our Lucy. Who knows why?
There is a theme here about the overlapping of time. How the family farm in Amgash, Illinois is still a resting place for Lucy’s mind. How her marriage and her daughters feel tentative in their place in her life. Her mother’s stories of the women back home are presented like characters themselves pulling the train of their tales through the center of Lucy’s hospitalization. The doctor-father who became the only “family” she had for weeks on end. The departures of loved, truly loved ones. It is all a marvel to Lucy Barton.
All of these make fascinating reading. What they do not make is a play. Laura Linney never skimps on her performances. She is 100% in, and delighted to be so. Watching her you know you are traveling with an artist who cares deeply about her work, her character and her audience. Richard Eyre’s direction is spare and sensitive. Even so, this elegant and moving story never becomes a play. More’s the pity all around.
WITH Laura Linney
Bob Crowley (scenic & costume design), Peter Mumford (lighting design), John Leonard (sound design) and Luke Halls (video design).
Manhattan Theatre Club, Lynne Meadow (Artistic Director) and Barry Grove (Executive Producer) are thrilled to present the American premiere of the London Theatre Company (Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr) production of My Name is Lucy Barton. The New York production is produced in association with Penguin Random House Audio.
Running time 95 minutes.
TICKETING INFORMATION –Tickets for My Name is Lucy Barton are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. To sign up for MTC’s “30 Under 35” program, offering $30 tickets for theatregoers age 35 and under, visit www.manhattantheatreclub.com/30under35/.