Here is that rarity: a new play
consisting largely of interwoven monologues, whose author and
characters are not Irish. J.T. Rogers’ 2004 play (receiving its British
première at the pub theatre which recently won the Olivier award
for Best New Play for The Mountaintop
deals with a family of the New York haute-bourgeoisie: Central Park
apartment, Swiss villa and in particular their “usual” hotel room in
Rome, where the three narrators coincide in space but not in time.
Lilian is a self-possessed woman of a certain age, June her daughter,
Nathan an economist colleague of her husband’s.
As the first half unfolds (with occasional brief flashbacks in which
performers play assorted cameos and, sometimes, their main characters
in the past), we gain an insight into the three personalities, their
attitudes to travel, personal and world history. Gradually, however, it
becomes apparent that the story we are piecing together centres on the
two absent figures: Lilian’s husband Arthur, whom it transpires Nathan
has been cuckolding for years, and June’s twin brother Paul. Arthur
died some time before even the earliest of the three time-streams; as
for Paul, that is the mystery at the heart of the tale.
In the second half we begin to see the characters interacting with each
other, at least in their own retrospective accounts, rather than
glimpsing them on the margins of other stories. We begin to discern a
family perhaps too hermetically sealed and possessive of each other,
whose members consequently have difficulty finding or accepting roles
for themselves as autonomous individuals. We also glimpse, as it were
through the cracks in the main story, that this detachment from the
world is a matter of social and professional as well as personal
psychology. The boredom and slight contempt they feel for their various
fellow travellers, and Paul’s impulse to become an aid worker, faintly
suggest a culpable upper-middle-class complacency reminiscent of that
which infuses the plays of Wallace Shawn.
Also as with Shawn’s plays, I am afraid, the piece also feels rather as
if actually becoming explicit at any point were somehow infra dig.
Sorcha Cusack, Miranda
Foster and Barry Stanton are the kind of big-hitting cast that Theatre
503 can now attract, but like the titular island’s relationship to
Africa, the play stands a little way off the coast of being engaging.
Written for the Financial