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A CurtainUp Review
Ladies of the Corridor
Original Review by Macey Levin
The play juggles three plot lines while depicting a residential hotel catering primarily to widowed women. The various stories do not touch one another, the major interaction usually involving two gossips who station themselves in the lobby as Nosy Parkers (pardon the pun.)
The central plot revolves around Lulu Ames (Susan Jeffries), a recent widow who has a love affair with a man twelve years younger. Her need to be loved and her possessiveness initiate dire conflicts. Grace Nichols shares rooms with her middle-aged son Charles. Their relationship is controlled by Grace's willingness to hold Charles's past transgression over him. The third plot is centered on Mildred Tynan (Patricia Randell), an alcoholic who has left her philandering and abusive husband. Any one of these stories, if developed, could carry the action of the evening. As it is, they are disjointed one-act plays that have been poorly sewn together. They do, however, maintain one's interest through their inherent conflicts and somewhat superficial back stories.
Director Dan Wackerman has wisely laid a contemporary patina over the plot to give the play relevance and a strong contrast between Connie, a childhood friend of Lulu's, and the other women who are willing to accept the deceptively comfortable fate thrust upon them. Jo Ann Cunningham offers a strong performance as a widow left destitute by her husband who has found a job with an interior decorator. In 1953, this makes her a victim rather than a career woman. By today's standards, and in this production, she has become a strong woman who asserts herself in order to survive though she loses some of our respect by several homophobic comments, a throwback to a less sensitive era.
Though the play is set fifty years ago, the central problem of widowhood still persists. There may be more opportunities today to explore a fuller and more satisfying life, but society still has a tendency to place widows, widowers and older single women into a separate, often restrictive, circumstance. Their lives have been redirected and many of these people are unable to make easy adjustments. This is the major image created in the play.
Parker's life is reflected in various events in the work. After divorcing her first husband, Edwin Pond Parker II, she resided in the Algonquin Hotel where she became a member of the famous "Round Table" and indulged her alcoholism. Her last years were spent in solitude and she died alone of a heart attack in her room at Hotel Volney on June 7, 1967.
On the whole, the play is well acted. Jeffries' portrayal of Lulu Ames is nicely controlled and textured, though she becomes somewhat too melodramatic in the final confrontation with her lover Paul Osgood. In an outstanding performance by Kelly AuCoin, this character voices most of Parker's famous witty ripostes. AuCoin brings a jolt of electricity to the production with his entrance in the middle of act one, and the play moves more swiftly from that point.
The calculating and oppressive Grace Nichols is chillingly played by Peggy Cowles. Her razor-like delivery of dialogue and her cold eyes create a villain we love to hate. Ron Bagden makes Charles a forlorn casualty who cries for our sympathy. The contrast between mother and son is involving and painful.
Mildred has a lengthy monologue in the second act that Patricia Randell delivers with intelligence and a strong emotional structure. But that is not enough. The speech is ponderous and unrealistic. Jason O'Connell's bellhop Harry is at one moment unctuous while highly ingratiating the next.
The Bank Street Theater is in a basement and has an odd configuration with some sight lines obstructed. Chris Jones's set design solves most of the problems of the space for the play's several locations. The scene changes, though somewhat slow, are accomplished efficiently and accompanied by appropriate music. Dana Sterling's light design complements the set and adds subtle tones to the production.
Director Wackerman (who is also artistic director of the company) has staged the show well, given the problems of the space. He has made the several expository scenes interesting and moves them at a strong pace until the various conflicts come to the fore. His characters are as well-defined as the script will allow.
Though The Ladies of the Corridor is not a major work nor a work that greatly enhances Parker's reputation, it has strong moments for actors and more than one message to communicate.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
Somewhere For Me, a Biography of Richard Rodgers
The New York Times Book of Broadway: On the Aisle for the Unforgettable Plays of the Last Century
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
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