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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
Has Amy's View held up since we posted our review of the London production in February 1998? Has the production transferred well? Is Dame Judi Dench really as good as all the hype accompanying her return to Broadway after many years?
The answer is yes on all counts. To expand on the last question first, this paraphrase from Rogers and Hammerstein: There is nothing like this Dame! Dame Judi's magnetism ignites on stage even more potently than in the films that have recently brought her international fame. Her body movements, her aliveness must be seen to be appreciated. Her voice and delivery could make one sit still if she read aloud from a computer manual.
As for questions two and three, the play is as much Sir David's view as his title character's. In addition to Amy's belief that if we love unconditionally, we can all get along instead of hurting each other, Hare's views-a-plenty will leave our heads spinning with debatable ideas. This bent for Shavian discussion may not be quite the easily digested entertainment some associate with the enjoyable trappings of an old-fashioned play.
Unlike Via Dolorsa, a discussion masquerading as a play (written by and starring Hare and currently playing in a neighboring theater), Amy's View has a definite dramatic arc that takes its characters from a comfortable house near London to a dingy dressing room in a London Fringe theater. The play moves forward chronologically, beginning with the daughter bringing her lover home for her mother's approval. Mother and daughter have a warm and loving relationship but it's antipathy at first sight for mom and the man. This leads to an act of betrayal that puts a serious strain on the women's relationship and ends in a wrenchingly sad yet redemptive ending.
With both Judi Dench but Samantha Bond to reprise Esme Allen and Amy Thomas, the mother and daughter who are the play's emotional center, the at times debate-like dialogue is in good hands. Dench is unquestionably the star, but Bond is true and strong as the tragic pawn of passion, torn between the mother and husband she loves and the opposite views of the world they represent. Their face off is indeed touching.
On hand to rein in the debating and keep the play focused on its emotional underpinnings is the original director, Richard Eyre. Also back on board is set and costume designer Bob Crowley. His handsome naturalistic set has paintings peeking through a scrim wall, suggesting the fading artistic world in which Esme and her late husband existed so happily. Some of Ms. Dench's dresses (also by Crowley) make a strong case for pleasing plumpness. Wendall K. Harrington's projections enhance the atmosphere of this idyllic world in which art was appreciated and the suburban landscape unspoiled by wine bars and other accouterments of "progress."
I overheard some exit remarks on the order of"I loved her (meaning Dench) but it's all so talky." Many of these people may just find themselves chewing over those talky bones of contention again and again.
Happily, our London reviewer's comments about the men being weak links in the production do not apply to the Broadway transfer. Tate Donovan is just right as Dominic Tyghe, the embodiment of everything in this imperfect world the playwright (through Esme) rails against. Like Tom Sergeant in Skylight he isn't so much a villain as a man who has enthusiastically embraced values disdained by a more sensitive woman (Esme -- and, even though she won't at first admit it, Amy).
The second man in the play, Frank Oddie (Ronald Pickup), nicely echoes this charismatic bad guy set-up. He adores Esme and proves himself a staunch friend -- and yet, as her financial adviser he allowed her to buy into the Lloyds of London Names program. Hare's use of Lloyd's unlimited liability program which has become something of a financial trainwreck in recent history is an apt device for underscoring his gloomy view of the Goliaths destroying the brave and worthy Davids of this world. (The David known as Sir Hare excepted, since he seems to be navigating this tawdry universe with immense success and personal accomplishments. (You'll find some background about this program in the box below. )
The third woman in the play, Esme's aging mother-in-law Evelyn Thomas is also well cast. Anna Pitoniak adds much humor to the first act, and poignantly plays a sadder part later on -- another reminder of the decay Hare sees everywhere.
Amy's View is not flawless. It leaves us in the dark about one of its most dramatic events. And, yes, it is a talky play, but that talkiness is filled with passion. Hare, and through his words, Judi Dench, bring the classic masks of comedy and tragedy to the same stage, and often the same conversation.
A final caveat. Dame Judi's voice undoubtedly gets some of its throaty resonance from years of cigarette smoking and she certainly smokes with panache on stage. However, anyone concerned about second-hand smoke should avoid sitting in the front third of the Barrymore's orchestra.
LINKS to other David Hare plays