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Maudie and Jane
By Jenny Sandman
Founded in 1947, the Living Theatre created a name for itself in the 50s and 60s with its pioneering presentations of poetic drama. Led by founders Judith Malina and Julian Beck, the company was among the first in the US to present works by Bertoldt Brecht, T.S. Eliot, and Gertrude Stein. Company member Joseph Chaikin went on to form The Open Theater. This oldest experimental theater troupe found new life when it re-presented its 1963 hit, The Brig.
With such an impressive pedigree, I assumed my first Living Theatre production would be, well, better. But Maudie and Jane is lackluster at best and boring at worst. While Malina's performance is excellent, the material she has to work with is not.
The play is based on Doris Lessing's 1983 novel The Diary of Jane Somers (also known as The Diary of a Good Neighbor)about a strange relationship between Jane Somers, a 40s career woman and the old woman she befriends. Jane is a successful magazine edito who's — at first is repulsed by the smelly and possibly crazy old lady she meets in the drugstore. But she feels sorry for Maudie, and begins visiting her periodically. In return, Maudie insults Jane, refuses to clean herself or the apartment, and does her best to drive Jane away. But Jane stays and —to the surprise of everyone involved, including Jane herself— she becomes Maudie's caretaker in her final days.
While the true friendship between the women is apparent by the end of the play, the relationship strains credulity as it's hard to know what the two women see in each other initially. The script is written in short, choppy scenes. We barely have time to settle into one scene before it's over, and we're yanked along to a new stage in the burgeoning relationship. With very little in the way of backstory or character development, we're not really given a chance to watch the relationship grow or change but simply see the characters' brief interactions and hear their internal dialogues.
Pat Russell (Jane), like Malina is an accomplished, talented actor and both women struggle mightily to make the best of this poorly scripted adaptation of the Lessing book. The half-hearted direction that confines them to a small raked platform, doesn't help. Ultimately this story of an unlikely friendship is unlikeable. Hopefully the company's next production will take them back to their award-winning roots.
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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