Thursday, May 08, 2008

Did Critics Place Top Girls At Top Of Their Lists?

Did Critics Place Top Girls At Top Of Their Lists?

Last evening, the final opening of Broadway's 2007-08 Theatrical Season occurred at the Manhattan Theatre Club's Biltmore Theatre. Caryl Churchill's Top Girls opened its limited run under the direction of James Macdonald. The cast includes Martha Plimpton, Mary Catherine Garrison, Mary Beth Hurt, Marisa Tomei, Elizabeth Marvel, Jennifer Ikeda and Ana Reeder.

While not necessarily offering their top marks for the year, critics gave the revival that's never previously been performed on the Great White Way very decent notices.

Right at the top is The New York Sun's Eric Grode, whose rave is practically over the top: "James Macdonald's razor-sharp, impeccably acted production basks in the play's frequently cloaked but constantly beating heart without sacrificing an ounce of the intellectual gravitas that made it such a powerhouse in 1982. Sometimes greatness can obscure just how good something is — and Top Girls, we are bracingly reminded, is a very, very good play.... Coupled with Ms. Plimpton's gorgeous rendition of a teenager destined for the slag heap, the three (including Tomei and Marvel) convey both the resentments and the deep-seated empathy of a sundered family."

Noting how "its originality is undiminished in MTC's incisively acted Broadway production," David Rooney of Variety gives the production top grades: "It's a mark of the spiky brilliance of Top Girls that regardless of having previously seen or read the 1982 play, deciphering its cryptographic mosaic of narrative, themes, structure and style is still a bracing challenge.... Marvel is superb at outlining the steely edges that have enabled her to snatch the office throne from a senior male colleague while showing a glimmer of the fear that keeps her looking over her shoulder. Her clipped tones slip down the class scale when talking to Angie and then click efficiently back into place as she resumes executive mode.... Any reservations about Macdonald's visual scheme are countered by his razor-sharp work with the tremendous cast, all of them aside from Marvel in multiple roles."

Declaring this "a provocative play, one that -- 26 years later -- makes one think and think again," New York Post's Clive Barnes' three-star review (out of four) comes close to the top: "I was engrossed by Churchill's technical command of the theater and her willingness to take risks.... Churchill makes one seriously consider the female/male equation more closely than would a simple propagandist screed.... James Macdonald's staging is beautifully nuanced, especially in its careful development of Marlene, with Marvel giving a shaded performance that covers every base. All the acting has a perfect ensemble feel to it. Plimpton shines in her dual roles as a dry Pope Joan and a touching Angie, and Tomei is splendid in three roles."

Observing that this play "climbs toward the top," Joe Dziemianowicz of New York's Daily News is a notch lower, awarding three out of five stars: "Though the play is overly talky and circuitous, incisive performances by seven actresses in the Manhattan Theatre Club production make it a fine final entry to the 2007-08 Broadway season.... Director James MacDonald, who staged Churchill's Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? at the Public, expertly guides the cast and brings out the story's rich humor.... As the lone cast member who plays just one part, Marvel expertly captures the brittle - maybe even mannish, at times - climber of the corporate ladder.... Tomei and Plimpton are very affecting."

Waxing that "It feels no less original today," Newsday's Linda Winer lauds the production, but notes that the sound is anything but tops: "Blame the acoustics, or the inexplicable failure of that fine director, James Macdonald, to check the sound throughout the house.At a recent preview, despite my good seat, I had trouble hearing stretches of the play. Seven spectacular actresses ... are perhaps too devoted to delivering the foreign, class and regional English dialects.... They are all wonderful. Churchill precisely depicts the convivial chatter and overlapping narcissism, the fashionable food and blurted revelations of such modern gatherings. Buried in the conversation, however, is a work-and-family history of choices available to strong women."

Calling it a "well-acted revival," Ben Brantley of The New York Times offers a middling assessment: "Watching that consciousness surface in Ms. Churchill’s fantasy dinner in a London restaurant ... makes the first act of Top Girls not only an inspired gimmick but also one of the most resonant theatrical set pieces of the past 50 years. And it has been done full justice here by a cast rounded out by Mary Catherine Garrison, Mary Beth Hurt, Jennifer Ikeda and Ana Reeder, directed with intelligence and sensitivity by James Macdonald. That nothing else in Top Girls equals its virtuosic opening scene is no fault of this revival... Even 25 years ago, when the play opened at the Public Theater in New York, it was evident that Ms. Churchill had saved her best for first."

Given the largely positive overall critical response, will Top Girls now earn sufficient Tony buzz to warrant an extension beyond its scheduled June 22 closing? And will capacity hovering just under the 70% range, will audiences now flock to the show?

I'll keep a close eye on developments, but first I'll be taking in a performance in the next few days and will have my own SOB Review shortly thereafter.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
Opening: Top Girls Tops Off Broadway Season (May 7, 2008)

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At 08 May, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one says anything about how this production compares to the original at the Public. THe reviews at that time said that it was the best acting in New York theatre history.
I understudied and performed six roles in that production, and it's hard to believe that any production could exceed that of Max Stafford Clark's. Is anyone who saw the original still going to the theatre?

At 08 May, 2008, Blogger Dorian said...

I'm hoping Top Girls is extended. I read it in my theatre class, and loved it, and I want to see this production. I was disappointed when I discovered how short the run was. I'll be in Northampton, Massachusetts starting at the end of July/beginning of August, which gives me easy access to NYC, but by that time Top Girls will likely have closed. Sadly.


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