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A CurtainUp Review
Jean (Mary Monahan) works in a gas station and lives in a tiny one-room flat. Her best friend, Dawn (Gina LeMoine) got married young, and has four small children. Jean's current boyfriend, Roy (Josh Marcantel), is clearly only interested in the sex, and has conveniently forgotten to tell his wife about Jean. One night, after the wife arrives to confront Roy and Jean, Jean and Dawn decide to go out. They return late, after many drinks, with Dawn's husband Mick (Brandon McCluskey) and his friend Len (Stephen Haskett) in tow. After many more drinks, Dawn and Mick leave, and Jean is left to face the gaping void that is her life. Boozing only partially obscures all these people's stultifying lives.
Leigh's play, first presented in New York thirteen years ago by the New Group, explores the minutiae of 1979 working class life in London. Nothing much happens, but that's the point—nothing much will happen in these people's lives, either.
The space at 85 East 4th Street is appropriately claustrophobic. Long and narrow, it affords us the true joy of a one-room coldwater flat. The actors are surprisingly adept at the broad Cockney accents. I don't mean to sound patronizing but it's really difficult for a non-native to nail a broad Cockney accent.
The collective performances capture the grinding sameness of the lives Leigh depicts. Mary Monahan's portrayal of Jean is layered enough to keep the whole thing from collapsing into one-dimensionality. Gina LeMoine as Dawn is an appropriate foil, jocular enough to provide some laughs while unintentionally highlighting Jean's loneliness. Without the strong performances, this play would be too passive and depressing by far. As it is, it is pretty depressing. Director Sara Laudonia wisely keeps the focus on the actors, with simple blocking and a quick pace.
Ecstasy, unlike Leigh's satire-edged films (Life Is Sweet, High Hopes, Naked), leans more towards the naturalstic, coupling casual personal detail, coupled with the ensemble's quality and compassion. This particular production of a society on the edge is very well-done, but to repeat what I've already mentioned, it is depressing. Nothing like watching characters on the cusp of financial, emotional and spiritual crisis to make you enjoy the current recession — fortunately the modestly priced tickets make it unnecessary for even those on a rigid money saving budget to keep enjoying live theater.