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|A CurtainUp Review
The first person you'll meet in Gen LeRoy's splendid new play, Not Waving is an unprepossessing woman of uncertain age. As played to perfection by Sloane Shelton, Gaby, is the personification of uptightness. Since she's come calling at a mental hospital for the daughter she has agreed to be responsible for, you wonder for a moment if life with this apparently rigid woman is going to be a great improvement over the hospital. If you're groaning, "Oh, no, not another Mommy Dearest," relax. This mom is a quite literally a dear--a character who will stay in your mind as a real person long after you leave the Primary Stages theater. There's an impishness beneath her proper exterior which makes everything that follows totally believable. When she says "It's crippling when something goes wrong with your child,"" you double over in pain with her. When she reflects upon there never being any case of mental problems in her family, except for Aunt Doris who collected nail clippings-- ("her own, of course")--you double over with laughter.
Nicole, Gaby's mentally fragile daughter luminously portrayed by Kyra Sedgwick, will leave an equally indelible mark on your mind. Like her mother she is fully dimensioned. Fragile and intense at times to the point of sillyness, but strong and bursting with energy. >
I don't really want to spoil the experience for you by telling you too much about the plot. The most important thing to bear in mind is this: Nicole's journey back from the hell of mental illness to sanity with her mother as her fellow traveler, supporter and best friend is as funny as it is heart wrenching. It's a magical journey because it results in a believable a reversal of roles. We have the needy daughter become the mother's teacher. In turn, the mother having learned to fully embrace life, is empowered to shift gears when the adventure she and Nicole share takes yet another turn. That adventure includes a hilarious takeoff on vintage Cary Grant/David Niven jewel thief movies. It also gains scope with a number of additional male and female characters, chief among the Nicole's ex-husband Mark and ex-best friend Helen. All these roles are ably filled by Nancy Jo Carpenter and Tim Michel.
At the beginning of the play, during a brief but revealing memory monologue, Gaby reflects on the names of pieces of furniture; for example, a vanity. "Isn't that a wonderful name, so apt." That aptness also describe's Tony Walton's set. It is a character of another sort--but very much a jewel in this play's crown--bright, handsome, simple and with its geometric openings and metaphorically matching furnishings, symbollically rich. There's a point in the middle of the play when mother and daughter are wonderfully in tune with each other, when all the openings and shapes are perfectly aligned. Walton, who happens to be the playwright's husband, and one of the theater world's most gifted set designers couldn't have given his wife a more splendid gift to launch her play writing career.
If you take this play too literally, you may not find the idea of dramatizing mental illness as a caper amusing, but to my mind Not Waving is deserving of the Carbonell Award for best Play it received when it premiered last year at the Pope Theatre in Palm Beach. It introduces a poignant new voice that's clearly grounded in an appreciation of language and literature. The playwright chose her title from a poem by Stevie Smith:"I was much too far out all my life
Andnot waving but drowning " According to the program notes, her story was partly inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone, who was kidnaped by Hades, the lord of the underworld, to be his wife and queen but allowed to return to her mother Demeter for a few months out of the year, and in the course of this return coursed a springtime. Ms. LeRoy is a capable plotter as well as a gifted wordsmith. If there's a smoking gun --or in this case, a yodel--you may be sure that it will at one point or another go off. Her writing heretofore has been mostly for children, an audience quick to appreciate genuine characters and accept fantastical situations. It is a genre that has seeded other good playwrights. Enid Bagnold who gave us both National Velvet and The Chalk Garden is just one who comes to mind. Paul Zindel is another.
At any rate, I heartily recommend Not Waving. It fulfills the playwrights view of a play as something that gives audiences a piece of life, an experience that involves them and makes them think and care, laugh and cry.