Tuesdays with Maudie: The Living Theatre’s new play can’t earn its few moments of grace.
By Ellen Wernecke
One’s a fashion editor and one’s an aimless retiree. One favors mini-dresses, the other shapeless rags. One bathes -- a lot, from what we see -- and one pretty much won’t bathe at all. And the one who feels comfortable talking about poop will eventually teach the other one to do so as well.
Everyone learns a valuable lesson from “Maudie & Jane,” except the people for whom this two-paths-cross story is at all familiar. The chic Jane (Pat Russell) has a chance meeting with Maudie (Judith Malina) and ends up sitting in her crammed apartment, trying to overcome her own feelings of discomfort. Of course, she has to overcome that sentiment, otherwise there would be no relationship and no play, so she does.
This is very well-trod ground, and despite having source material stronger than a newspaper columnist’s sentimental dreams -- specifically, two novellas by Nobel Prize for Literature winner Doris Lessing -- the eminently talented actors who take the parts of the two women who become friends can’t overcome this obstacle. Russell is the audience’s first confidante, the downstage one (which on the steeply raked stage is no easy trick) and the one who shows herself vulnerable much more quickly than her neighbor and her secret past. Russell makes it easy to be drawn into the play at its start -- her rapport with the audience is established right away -- but as the story drifts toward familiarity, her open appeal loses its sheen. Maudie’s essence is that she is not the type to open up to strangers (at least, not coherently), and Malina handles that with aplomb, but her character suffers from the same effect.
Despite the plethora of lines taken verbatim from Lessing’s novel, “Maudie & Jane” is sentimentalized by overbearing music which swells over wordless scenes that otherwise might be moving, especially at such close range to the audience. Between the score and the reduction of Lessing’s work to a too-tidy pile, the adaptation never quite attains its own life.
Through February 9 at the Living Theatre, 21 Clinton St.
For more information, visit LivingTheatre.org
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.