Any daughter who shares a co-dependent relationship with her mother can relate to Amy's View. It is the story of the changing relationship between a widowed mother and her only child. As Amy grows from naiveté into a world-weary adult, her mother, Esme, a respected stage actress, struggles to retain control while Amy fights to create herself as an individual.
Set in England, the play is written with dry British wit and a decidedly gloomy edge. Trish Ralph, as Amy's grandmother, steals scenes with deadpan delivery of her raunchy lines.
Accents abound, some authentic. Jill Rittinger, an ethereal redhead who plays Amy with bite, has Gwyneth Paltrow's knack for the British twist. However, Mark D'Annunzio, playing Amy's arrogant boyfriend, believes the trick resides in hitting T's with forceful diction. His portrayal of Dominic, an aspiring media exposé artist, moves quickly into the overwrought and remains here without nuance. In their romantic interactions, Rittinger steadies D'Annunzio, pulling him into a natural and charming relation.
Patricia Lewis, as Esme Allen, is the driving force of the show. Her scenes with Rittinger are endearing. Amy curls into her mother, weeping and begging for understanding. Lewis reacts with the natural inclination of a mother, rubbing Rittinger's back and kissing her forehead.
The Shipping Dock stage is open to the audience on three sides. This allows director Barbara K. Biddy to block the actors naturally on the beautiful set. Decorated with a colorful oriental rug, impressionistic paintings, dark leather furniture, and a prominent bar, the room tells a story of its own. It is rich, yet without sentimental accoutrement to distract from the symbolic artwork, present as a reminder of Esme's departed husband.
Although the play has funny moments, it is unrelentingly depressing. Playwright David Hare barrages the audience with topics ranging from abortion to bankruptcy to Alzheimer's to infidelity and, finally, death. By the end of the third act, little was left that could happen to these people short of their being dissipated by the explosion of an atomic bomb.
In today's media-driven, short-attention-span society, a three-act play can take a toll. Amy's View is no exception. Hare needs a copy of the script and a box of red pens.
Should art be sacrificed because many Americans can't abide delayed gratification? No, but the truth is, Hare could cut 30 minutes from his play and still successfully explore its issues. The play is, essentially, a collection of arguments between a cast of revolving characters. Each argument is realistically presented, through crescendo and decrescendo. However, these, like real arguments, seem to go on forever. Surprisingly, if you aren't a participant, watching people rail at each other becomes very boring, very quickly.
Literary rule No. 1: If an author introduces a gun in the beginning of a story, it has to go off by the end. Otherwise, the audience is left wondering, "What happened to the gun?" Amy's View becomes suddenly abstract when, in the last minutes of the play, an actor appears onstage covered, from head to toe, with body paint in a shade that can only be described as OompaLoompa orange. Why? There is no explanation offered. And, things get weirder when Esme, in preparing for a role, puts on a goat herder/MC Hammer jacket and pours water over her head. Are these strange occurrences symbolic? Is this a baptism? Instead of leaving the theater considering the play's themes, I left wondering, "What was up with the giant OompaLoompa?"
In the end, the complicated relationships and thought-provoking ideas presented in Amy's View are not enough to overcome Hare's own longwinded exploration.
Amy's View through July 1 | Shipping Dock Theatre, Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street | $12-$22 | 232-2250 | http://shippingdocktheatre.org