The story out of Manhattan Theatre Club the last couple of weeks has been all about the walkouts during their previews of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls. This production (directed by the masterful young Brit James Macdonald and starring the stunning American actress Elizabeth Marvel) is actually the Broadway premiere of the play--playing MTC's Biltmore venue. So it's a different audience from the play's original home at London's Royal Court or the Public, where it had its NYC preem 26 years ago.
So NY Times.com decided to throw together a little "interactive feature":
The pre-opening buzz about the Broadway production of "Top Girls," Caryl Churchill's 1982 play about a the lives of women over the course of several centuries, was mixed. Some people said they couldn't wait to leave at intermission; others thought the play was a masterful exploration of third-wave feminism.So take a listen. I'm glad they made the effort to get "both" sides, at least. But does the "angry subscriber" get privileged here?
In his review for The Times, Ben Brantley calls it a "well-acted" revival that is "directed with intelligence and sensitivity." To find out what audience members thought, we asked several people at the final preview to share their thoughts. Following are excerpts from selected conversations.
Notice the title of the feature is "untangling Top Girls." As if it's this inscrutable sphinx in demand of untangling. Little do they know, I guess, it's probably the most "accessible" thing the woman ever wrote!
Among the highlights said by the haters: one says the overlapping in the first scene (scripted by Churchill) must be to lessen the running time, another feels misled that the play isn't "modern" enough (she must have left after the first scene), and another only came because Marisa Tomei was in it (she was disappointed).
Needless to say that amazing, legendary opening scene (so beloved by all who really study the play) loses a huge patch of the audience from the outset and if they don't walk out immediately they spend the next hour or two still expecting the rest of the play to "explain" that beginning. Or at least follow the same pattern.
I mean--is it even that hard to understand??? Call it a dream sequence if you have to (though I'm sure Churchill would consider that too limiting) but clearly that first scene gets you inside Marlene's head as she prepares to take a new corporate job, one that marks her ascendancy (she thinks) to becoming a powerful woman. That she fantasizes surrounding herself with the company of true feminist icons who--when you think about it--put this mere businesswoman to shame, you realize it is an ironic celebration. This all gets fulfilled in the last scene's family argument over whether Margaret Thatcher's rise really represents a victory for women (as Marlene, of course, insists, seeing herself in Maggie) or just a furtherance of policies that will continue to oppress women under the guise of one of their own.
I myself haven't seen this production. I've heard mixed things even from people who love the play. But these violently confused responses seem to me inevitable when you plop a piece of deliberately difficult, serious theatre in the middle of the Great White Way. Let's just face it Broadway is just rigged against this kind of endeavor. I guess we should applaud MTC for trying. But what has been accomplished?