Regional Reviews: New Jersey
Rosemary Harris is Both
Also see Macbeth, Bloody Macbeth
Thus begins Oscar and the Pink Lady, a Pablum filled, intellectually and emotionally dishonest stage adaptation of a French "feel good" novella. Oscar's saccharine, mostly lighthearted and intended to be funny and inspirational letters are read to us by octogenarian Pink Lady, largely in a sing song style meant to simulate the voice of the delicate, deceased 10 year old.
Oscar writes about the other patients. The boys are known to one another by their nicknames: Oscar, having lost all his hair is called Egghead; Popcorn is nine years old and weighs 200 pounds; Bacon is severely burned and awaits six additional operations; and Einstein is nicknamed not for his intelligence, but because his head is twice normal size because he has water on the brain. Some of the girls have nicknames: Peggy Blue, is facing surgery for a blood condition which has turned her skin blue; the love hungry promiscuously soul kissing Sandrine, whose bone marrow transplant has succeeded, is called China Girl because the manner in which her hair has grown back makes her look Chinese (do you believe this!); and finally, there is the huggy Downs Syndrome impaired Bernadette who mercifully does not have a nickname (we can painfully guess what it would have been if author Schmitt had given her one).
Oscar is angry because his parents and doctor are afraid to tell him what he already senses, that he is dying. He strikes up a friendship with the octogenarian Pink Lady, who is honest with him. Oscar calls her his Granny Pink. Although a cynical atheist (his parents taught him to believe in Santa Claus, but not in G-d), Granny convinces him to write a daily letter to G-d. When he later bemoans not having an address to which to send his letters, Granny takes him to the hospital chapel. The expression on Jesus' face on a chapel crucifix makes clear to him the difference between physical suffering, which you endure, and emotional suffering, which you suffer only if you choose to do so. More importantly, Granny gets Oscar to play a game in which he will pretend that each one of the next 12 days will equal ten years of life, so that he will be 130 years old at their conclusion. This is apparently his life expectancy. Oscar so completely adopts this game that he thinks of each day's happenings as corresponding to experiences which he would have in his teens, twenties, thirties, etal. Oscar happily enjoys each day until he becomes content to die in old age. If you can believe any of this, the George Street Playhouse production of Oscar and the Pink Lady might be the just the right ticket for you.
The solo evening is based on Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's novella of the same name, which I have not read either in the original French or in an English translation. However, whatever "adapting" Schmitt may have done to turn his novella into a work for the stage, Schmitt has not written a play. There is nothing here beyond the reading of Oscar's letters, and a brief epilogue in which the Pink Lady relates to G-d the last hours of Oscar's life.
One of the great American stage actresses is trapped in this dreadful exercise. I refer to the luminous Rosemary Harris, who made her Broadway debut in 1952. During the 1960's, Ms. Harris appeared in repertory with the APA (Association of Performing Artists), off and on Broadway, in classic plays such as You Can't Take It With You, and, as Natasha, in the APA's monumental adaptation of Tolstoy's War and Peace. Amidst all this, Harris thrilled theatre lovers portraying Eleanor of Aquitaine opposite Robert Preston in the original Broadway production of The Lion in Winter. Enough. It surely is not too much to hope that we will again see Rosemary Harris in plays and roles worthy of her talent.
In addition to her principal roles of Oscar and the Pink Lady, Ms Harris briefly portrays parents, doctors, hospital personnel and other patients over the long course of this two hour, two act monologue.
It may have helped a bit if Ms. Harris had portrayed the Pink Lady throughout, reading the letters in her adult Pink Lady voice. Watching a mature woman portray a 10 year old child for the greater part of two hours cannot help but be grating. Ms. Harris receives no help from the cutesy-poo direction of Frank Dunlop (another distinguished theatrical giant whose 1974 production of Scapino with Jim Dale is a treasured memory). Dunlop has costumed Ms. Harris simultaneously as Oscar and his Granny Pink, employing an unflattering black cap for Oscar (to cover his hairless head) and a pink smock along with brightly colored striped and checked pants for the Pink Lady. Whether angry or happy, Oscar is always cute, loveable and chirpy. And what is any actress to do with the wise and perfect, always honest, upbeat and inspirational Pink Lady. Oops. Throughout their relationship, Granny Pink entertains Oscar with colorful stories of her younger days when she earned her living as a professional wrestler. In her final words to G-d, she mentions that these stories were fairy tales (so much for the honesty which we have been led to believe to be her hallmark for the past two hours.).
Michael Vaughn Sims has designed a large but minimal hospital setting with the to be expected furniture, a handful of Christmas decorations, linoleum floors with an alternating black and white diamond pattern, and a black curtain for the rear wall.
Oscar and the Pink Lady continues performances - Tues.-Sat. 8 PM/ Sun. 7 PM (exc.2/10)/ Sat.& Sun. 2 PM (exc. 1/26) through February 10, 2008 at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, NJ 08901. Box Office: 732-246-7717; on-line: www.GSPonline.org
Oscar and the Pink Lady by Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt; directed by Frank Dunlop
Cast: Rosemary Harris