In Amy's View, he proves unable to leave politics alone, offering a decades-spanning family play that celebrates one woman's life in the theater. But he still drags the op-ed pages into the living room, weighing in on cultural and fiscal matters.
It may be no accident that Theatre in the Square follows its season opener, Pygmalion, with Amy's View, neatly illustrating how Hare is heir apparent to George Bernard Shaw's theater of political discourse. (In fact, James Donadio, Pygmalion's Henry Higgins, is Amy's View's director.) At times in Amy's View, Hare's social arguments seem to be their own end, but the production continually returns to a strong motif about mothers and daughters that most audiences can identify with.
The play takes place from 1979 through 1995, mostly in a home in a part of rural England destined to become a gentrified London suburb. The deceased man of the house was an English impressionist, and Kat Conley's quirky set features empty frames hanging on walls that are entirely painted in Monet-like colors.
The first characters we see are elderly Evelyn (Suzi Bass), granddaughter Amy (Joan Croker) and Amy's new beau Dominic (Mark Pitt), who idly chat while staying up past midnight. Clearly living out a longstanding family custom, they await the return of Amy's mother Esme (Shannon Eubanks) from that evening's theatrical performance. The rest of the night is notable for Esme's first meeting with Dominic and Amy nervously making a request for money.
Though dramatically low-key, the first scene sets up conflicts involving optimistic Amy's relationship with prickly Dominic, whom she claims has good qualities that others don't often see. A number of years and a couple of children later, we take up with the family on the afternoon of a town festival, and as Amy arranges flowers, Dominic, now a successful but superficial TV broadcaster, tries to interview Esme on the topic "Is the theater dead?"
For the play's first half, Pitt seems unfortunately focused on emphasizing Dominic's domineering, abrasive qualities: He mocks the accents of others, he shouts, he rages about the stage pointing his finger and shaking his fist. Though the act evolves into a wide-ranging row over the value of theater, mass media and criticism, the only real point you come away with is what a jerk Dominic is, with many of Hare's larger implications diminished. It's a relief that Pitt's performance is tempered with Dominic's mellower, later-in-life appearance in the second act.
In the second act, hard times have befallen Amy, Evelyn and especially Esme. In a plot development no doubt inspired by actual cases, Esme's once-fruitful investments in Lloyd's of London have gone spectacularly sour, leaving her with "unlimited liability" and a fortune in debt. Standing in the house that seems to be gradually emptied of possessions, Amy and Esme argue over financial irresponsibility, but the fight vividly illustrates the complex mother-daughter dynamics at work, where the discussions in the first half seemed mostly gassy.
Eubanks (who is married to Donadio) nicely conveys Esme as the kind of woman who seems perpetually young at heart no matter what her calendar age. As the play progresses, she grays her hair and slows down her actions, conveying a more seasoned, melancholy aspect, but she doesn't lose her twinkle despite her misfortunes.
Croker may overplay Amy's schoolgirl delivery in the play's first scene, but she effectively conveys the ideals of youth -- "Amy's view" is that love and kindness are life's more important qualities -- that get shaken over the passage of years.
Suzi Bass has done plenty of funny work at Theatre in the Square, and the opening night audience was clearly primed for more of the same. Evelyn's more of a supporting part, how-ever, one that gets a few laughs but isn't especially comic. Increasingly debilitated by Alzheimer's, Bass' Evelyn is a believable person but also a symbol. On stage in a wheelchair throughout the first half of the second act, she repeats a narrow range of palsied movements and incoherent noises. As Esme and Amy argue over the importance of control in life, Bass hauntingly shows us a woman completely bereft of her own.
Bass also has one of the subtlest but most strangely memorable moments in the play. In the first scene, while Dominic tries to repair an antique bicycle, she looks at the spinning wheel and recalls the war, and it's like seeing someone witness the turning of Fate itself. Hare's play ultimately affirms Amy's view in a backhanded way, suggesting that everything is temporary, but that love and family have more staying power than art or politics.
Amy's View plays through Nov. 11 at Theatre in the Square, 11 Whitlock Ave., Marietta, at 8 p.m. Tues.-Sat. and 2:30 and 7 p.m. Sun. $20-$25. 770-422-8369.
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