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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

at Manhattan Theatre Club


  Phoebe Strole and John Ellison/ Ph: Joan Marcus

When we first see Martha (Edie Falco), soon to be the madre of the Madrid, she seems like everyone’s favorite teacher—smart, spontaneous, maybe just a touch sardonic, but engaged and approachable. So it comes as little surprise when she deals with a little girl (Brooke Ashley Laine) who won’t sit down and keeps asking questions by giving her the dowdy teacher’s cardigan and trading places—until she takes off altogether.
That initial desertion does catch you off guard, and in the world of the play, so does Martha’s sudden disappearance from the lives of her neighbors and friends Becca (Heidi Schreck) and the feckless Danny (Darren Goldstein), her mother Rose (Frances Sternhagen), her embittered husband John (John Ellison Conlee), and her just-out-of-college daughter Sarah (Phoebe Strole). When we first meet them, they’re dealing with the aftermath—John by selling all the furniture that reminds him of his shared life with his wife and Sarah by moving back in with her father and relinquishing (at least temporarily) her dreams of being a teacher in favor of a gig at Starbuck’s. Martha’s departure, it seems, has shocked and surprised them all. But after Martha suddenly appears at the coffee shop to wish Sarah a happy birthday and forge a new relationship with her, Sarah slowly starts to realize that there were hints—and more than hints—of her mother’s departure decades before Martha made the break.
Written by Liz Flahive, a writer on the TV show Nurse Jackie, this comedy centers on a character whose motives are never overtly explained. And though that lack of clarity clearly irritated the subscribers in the audience the day I was there, it’s clear to see why the role might have appealed to Falco. Martha’s struggle to leave her comfortable, constricting suburban life and find herself is one of the quintessential American stories. And her inability to leave until her daughter is old enough to take care of herself adds a feminist twist to the age-old dream of just walking away.
Flahive has a knack for dialogue. It’s most notable when it’s delivered by Sternhagen, in her sharp portrayal of Martha’s aged mom, whose life-threatening mishaps may or may not be an attempt to show her daughter she’s still needed, and by Schreck, as the neurotic nosy neighbor who turns out to be a lot more in-the-know about the nature of her own marriage than anyone gave her credit for being. And there are scenes that are eerily evocative, like the climactic meeting at the yard sale, where Martha finally sees her husband again in the midst of her life’s worth of furniture strewn over her old front yard.
But despite these merits, and some sensitive performances from a uniformly talented cast, there is, as the subscribers noted, a certain dull thud to the play. The point may be that it is indeed Martha’s life, to ruin as she sees fit. But Martha is running from something, not to something. Her new life, living in a seedy apartment complex, spending her nights running an open mic at a local bar, may be her own, but her daughter clearly finds it depressing, and it’s hard to disagree. For Martha, it may be enough to leave, but neither Falco nor Flahive manages to communicate any conviction to that moral, making Martha seem more like an anomaly than any kind of inspiration, so we’re left feeling as dissatisfied and bewildered as Martha’s abandoned family.


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