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A CurtainUp Review
By Elyse Sommer
According to a lengthy author's note inserted essay in my press kit, Fugue has had two previous productions that nabbed it an American Theatre Critics Award for Best Play in regional theater. It's been optioned by some well-known producers, but it's taken twenty years for the play to land the New York production it's currently being given at the handsomely renovated Cherry Lane Theater. Deidre O'Connell, who plays the woman incarcerated in a mental institution after being found wandering the streets of Chicago with her feet blistered and bloodied and her identity a mystery, is not as well known as some of the thespians (Diana Rigg and Sally Field, to name just two) who were intrigued by the meaty role during its optioned but unproduced days. She should be, for she is one of those actors who invariably makes a good play better and who can make even a flawed one worth seeing. You couldn't wish for a better actor to bring out all the subtleties in the troubled Mary's story and to make the most of her feisty and, yes, funny personality.
As the playwright and the people attending a performance are lucky to have O'Connell cast as the lead , so O'Connell and the seven other actors are fortunate to be directed by Judith Ivey, a fine actor lately double-dipping as a director. Ivey has ensured that the history locked up in Mary's troubled mind doesn't just spill out, but unpacks itself step by step, downplaying the script's plot holes and the tendency to telescope future revelations. Ivey has elicited excellent and believable performances from all the actors, notably the two doctors —Liam Craig as the very proper Dr. Oleander and Rick Stear the brilliant young Dr. Lucchessi whose own personal trauma may just make him the only one to help Mary— and Catherine Wolf as Mary's pragmatic, European born mother.
The segues between the present in Mary's hospital room to the various scenes from her gradually recovered memories are well served by Neil Patel's set which includes a staircase leading to a platform used for some of the by-play and for extra entrances and exits. The costumes (Gail Cooper-Hecht) lighting (Pat Dignan and sound design (T. Richard Fitzgerald, Carl Casellla) round out this production's assets.
This isn't a neatly tied up mystery so you'll have to live with the missing explanation for how Mary got to Chicago and why. Rick Stear's Dr. Lucchessi is appealing enough to make you swallow his against the grain of approved involvement, not just with Mary but in the situation that lead to his own tragedy. Whether you find the play's concluding sequences too much of a credibility stretch, O'Connell and Stears make the enormity of their psychological burdens hold your attention and leave you hoping that Thuna's poignant last scene will indeed be a salve for Mary and Danny's wounds.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide