By Tulis McCall
What is so remarkable about “Let’s Call Her Patty” at the Claire Tow Theater at Lincoln Center, is that it is unremarkable.
Our narrator, Sammy (Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer) is given the task of guiding us into her aunt Patty’s (Reah Perlman) life. Patty is an iconic Upper West Sider who got in “early” and will have to be carried out feet first. The apartment she loves is empty of furniture except one counter and a couple of stools – an odd choice. Patty is married to an unseen and unnecessary husband who is only good for Petty to yell at when she is coming or going.
As we meet Patty she is chopping nothing on a cutting board. This will be her main activity throughout the long 70 minutes of this play. How or why Perlman was locked into this activity is a mystery and an unfortunate one. She gives it her best, however, and punctuates the appropriate moments in the script with flair.
This play is more like a reality show with that kind of mother/daughter nattering where the daughter is trying to make a point (any point would do) and the mother keeps shifting the conversation to anything that will move. Old boyfriends. Childhood friends on drugs. Rule of the Road: Women over 50 should not wear shorts or have long hair; people to be shot: Bernie Madoff and Mark Zuckerberg for starters. It is a cornucopia of snippets of moments that we all have of our own mothers or aunts that suffice to explain them in one phrase.
Roughly a third of the way in we discover that Patty’s daughter Cecile (Arielle Goldman), who we have seen briefly and who appears to be unstable, is a sculptor. She has an opening that is a wild success and then crashes. She goes missing and the shows in Germany and London are all in question. We never see any of this. We hear about it through the conversations that Sammy and Patty are having. In some of these conversations Sammy is truly our guide, telling us what Patty might really mean, translating stand-offishness into a an Upper West Side wink.
At the center of this, if you look hard enough, you will see a mother in denial about her daughter’s mental state and opioid addiction. Not surprisingly Patty makes it all about her. As Sammy pulls away to tend to her own marriage – her mother in law is dying – Patty becomes more demanding and frightened.
When Patty does finally visit her daughter the meeting is, no surprise here, all about Patty and the text is so stilted that we see nothing other than that. The point is we have already seen how Patty makes everything about her. We have seen it over and over and over again. Were there no other attributes available? Perlman does not appear to have a huge range as an actor, but a script like this stops her from stretching the tiniest bit.
After a lot of chopping nothing and endless detours for comments about Zabars, Greenblatts, New Jersey, and other people’s children we are brought back to where we started. Patty finally admits that her daughter Cecile may never be better and what is she supposed to do with that. At last a tiny crack in this character’s facade, but by now it is all too late. What is also too late is that we discover the imaginary onions that Patty has been chopping (by now enough to feed a small country) are bad for the invisible dog who has been lying there all the time.
Kritzer is warm and charming, and does her best to shore up the story. Goldman barely gets a chance to emerge from her assigned role as a young woman with a problem. Perlman has energy to burn, but she has made few choices about where and how to direct it.
Sad to report that there is not much to see here folks. Move along.
Let’s Call Her Patty by Zarina Shea, Directed by Margot Bordelon
WITH Arielle Goldman, Leslie Rodriguez Kritzer, Rhea Perlman
Set by Kristen Robinson, Costumes by Sarafina Bush amd Lighting by Oliver Wason
Through August 27th at the Clare Tow Theatre, Lincoln Center. Tickets HERE