Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Madrid

Being a mom is hard. Really hard. So is being a wife. I mean, the fairytale is that you get married and live happily ever after. The truth is that the point up until the wedding and the baby is the easy part.  If you're among the fortunate ones, you get to grow up in a home with 1 or 2 loving parents or in 2 houses with 3 or 4 loving parents, you get your washing done, your meals cooked, you get sent to school and taught stuff and then sent to University and taught more stuff. You have someone looking out for you all the time. You have options, decisions, choices to make about what YOU want to do. The possibilities are endless.  You just have to grab a hold of something and run with it - supported lovingly by family and friends who applaud each wobbly step you take from toddlerhood to graduation. Then you date, you mess around, you drink, travel, explore, screw up. You do all the stuff YOU want to do. Pizza at 3am - sure! All nighters are completely voluntary. A trip to *insert relevant location* for the weekend - LOVE to.

At some point you find a girl or a guy and things are great. You move in together, you get engaged and then you have a wedding (or some variation of that sequence) ... and eventually if you are lucky enough to be of the fecund variety, you have a baby.  At that point every single thing you want to do moves to the bottom of the list.  Your child's needs, your husband's needs, your family's needs become numero uno.  Sometimes you hide in the bathroom. And sometimes, that is not enough. You want, on a very overwhelmingly primal level, to run away. ANYTHING, anything at all would be better than the relentless malaise of a suburban fairytale your life has become.

That is what The Madrid is about.  Edie Falco plays the tormented yet detached Martha, the mother of 22 year-old Sarah and wife of John.  A family of teachers, they live in a middle-class neighborhood surrounded by doting friends and a crotchety Frances Sternhargen as Martha's mother, Rose.  Martha runs away. She leaves a message saying 'I'm leaving' and that's it.  Her husband, daughter and mother are bereft. One day, Martha arrives at Sarah's workplace (Starbucks) and their fractured, dysfunctional relationship unfolds before us.  Sarah feels the need to take her mother's place at home, nurturing her father and actively taking care of her aging grandmother.  She holds it all together while John and Rose lose the ability to function without Martha.

The play is uncomfortable.  This isn't supposed to happen - mom's don't just leave. You only get to leave when you die - as Rose points out.  No-one knows how to deal with the situation in a satisfying manner. Should John date? Go on His wife exists, is living, is in the same city presumably but not in his home. What are the rules here?

Sarah begins a clandestine relationship with her mother. She accepts a $10,000 bribe to keep her location a secret. She is so desperate to be near her that she actively lies to her father, her grandmother and their neighbors.  Eventually, the mother/child bond supersedes Martha's desire to run away and be anonymous.

What I took home from this play was that once you're a mother, you're a mother.  You may have a fervent desire to escape the sometimes stifling confines of that role and all it entails, but the fundaments of your being are irreparably altered.  This isn't the kind of piece that provokes a rousing applause or a standing ovation.  Certainly there will be audience members who leave the theatre frowning and shrugging.  Martha spends 3 years saving and planning to make her escape.  This play explores the repercussions of what happens when mom runs away from home.  A modern fairytale? Maybe. Sometimes happily ever after ain't all it's cracked up to be.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Liza and Alan

In theatre, there are many famous collaborators – Kander and Ebb, Rogers and Hammerstein, Gilbert and Sullivan … You’ll notice that they are all composers, they are the ‘creatives’ behind the scenes.  It is rare to hear of an on-stage partnership in a business notoriously bitchy and fraught with narcissism.  And yet, last night I had the tremendous privilege of witnessing not only a collaboration, but what seemed almost to be a rite of passage –a ceremonial knighting of a new icon. 

Liza Minnelli is a star of the highest order – the child of Judy and Vincent – born into the gilded world of show business at a time when being talented meant something.  She has quipped that she exited the birth canal looking for her best camera angle.  Liza is that rare triple-threat – a singer, a dancer and an actress – and an Oscar, Tony and Grammy Winner.  Despite a life plagued by illness, addiction and heartbreak, Liza battles on as one of the few remaining genuine stars of our time. 

Alan Cumming cracked Broadway wide open with his dexterous performance as the overtly sexual, crass and deliciously wicked EmCee in ‘Cabaret’.  Liza won her Oscar 30 years before that as Sally Bowles in the film adaptation of that musical. When Liza saw Alan’s performance she reportedly went straight to his dressing room and said ‘I want to be your friend forever’. 

‘Liza and Alan’ seemed to be the very incarnation of that grand statement. In a land of air kisses and staged marriages, this was a celebration of a real friendship and a shared love of New York, showbiz and all that sparkles.  Sure, there were missed cues and flubbed lines, sure Liza is older, more fragile and husky, debilitated by 2 hip replacements, a bum knee and a sprained ankle but no-one cared.  I felt as though I had been invited to a night at Liza’s house – a night where Liza introduced us all to her new BFF the fabulous Alan Cumming  - her protégée or the son she might have had if life had dealt a different hand.

Alan’s solo-set included an extraordinary mash-up of Adele’s Someone Like You, Lady Gaga’s Blaze of Glory and Katy Perry’s Firework, an original work about an ex with a penchant for plastic sugery, a Bacharach/Sondheim medley and more all woven expertly together with charming repartee.   We heard that when Liza went to Fire Island, "It was like a papal visit--if you can imagine the church full of homosexuals." The crowd erupted. "Don't cry for me, Argentina," quipped Alan wryly.

Liza’s set began with ‘New York New York’ and included ‘Ring Them Bells’ and Charles Aznevour’s ‘What Makes a Man a Man’.  Perched on a director’s chair, Liza held court rasping her way through her self-deprecating banter, peppered with that trademark cackle.  At one point she lost the false eyelashes off one eye and proceeded to rip the others off too. There is no vanity here, no insecurity or fear – Liza is at home on the stage. She knows that her audience is reverential. After all, this is Liza Minnelli on stage in New York, New York. 

After two and a half hours, 3 curtain calls and a jubilant audience singing Happy Birthday, Alan and a visibly depleted Liza left the stage.  I couldn’t help but notice that many of the audience members were in tears. For my fellow theatre devotees, this was like our Woodstock. We were there that night when Liza sang with Alan.  We were there.