Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Lady: Did Critics Sing The Blues?

Lady: Did Critics Sing The Blues?

Last evening, the West End revival of Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque opened at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Most critics seemed genuinely taken with the performance by Dame Maggie Smith, but were mixed -- or negative -- about the show itself.

In his four-out-of-five-star review of what he calls a "silk-smooth production," Michael Billington of The Guardian has praise: "I was simultaneously tantalised, intrigued, and entertained....But a work dismissed as obscure in 1980 now seems politically prophetic....Albee's cryptic jeremiad about the state of the nation is delivered with immense style. Maggie Smith, enigmatic in black as the lady from Dubuque, perfectly blends choric irony with compassion for the dying....the great thing about a play in which nothing is ever resolved is that Albee leaves the audience the dignity of interpretative choice."

Taking the middle ground is Nicholas de Jongh of the Evening Standard, who in providing three out of five stars, offers this: "How it mystifies and irritates, disturbs and affects, but leaves you in the dark - provoked and unsatisfied!...It is Dame Maggie Smith's undimmed allure, though, rather than Albee's play that will insure The Lady From Dubuque, in Anthony Page's otherwise poorly acted production, lasts far longer over here. Dame Maggie discards most of her fabulous bag of comic manners and mannerisms to become the mysterious Lady, Elizabeth, radiant with wintry compassion and a flair for mocking disdain. She rediscovers that register of serious, heart-felt emotion she famously employed as a centenarian in Albee's Three Tall Women."

Describing the show as "an arch mix of sub-Pirandello and recycled Albee," Paul Taylor of The Independent provides a mixed review: "This belated London premiere, though spirited and stylish, is not going to persuade many people that The Lady of Dubuque is an Albee gem rescued from unjust neglect....Smith has a lot of sly fun with the role, seamlessly combining an air of mischievous ladylike puzzlement ("Pink hair? On purpose?") with quizzical hints of implacable purpose and metaphysical depth ("Oh, we exist. Worry about yourself," she majestically informs the distraught Sam)."

Offerings up just two out of five stars, The Times' Benedict Nightingale pans the production: "[T]his is a play that teases, tantalises and, without either arresting or exactly boring you, leaves you wondering what the hell it’s on about: which is maybe why it flopped on Broadway in 1980, lasting 18 previews and 12 performances, and has waited 27 years for its London premiere....But despite the best efforts of Anthony Page’s fine cast, I remained pretty much unimplicated and, worse, uninvolved throughout."

The limited 14-week engagement of The Lady From Dubuque ends on June 9.
This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Revival Of Albee's Lady From Dubuque Opens (March 20, 2007)
Dame Maggie Smith Confirmed for London Albee Revival (August 30, 2006)
The Dame as a Lady: Maggie Smith to Return to the Stage? (June 30, 2006)

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