Talking Heads

Patricia Kilgarriff
Each of the six monologues in Alan Bennett's Talking Heads focus on an average woman, yet each requires an actress of above average talent to flesh out the character and allow the audience to join in the minutiae of her life. With good acting, Bennett's characters come to life with great poignancy, and we anxiously await the next step in the progression of the plot. The City Theater's current production offers an uneven road of success through the performances of Patricia Kilgarriff and Helena Ruoti.

Talking Heads is presented in two parts. Program A features "A Lady of Letters," a funny snapshot of the kind of busybody (Kilgarriff) everyone knows; "Her Big Chance," in which we follow the trials of a film actress (Ruoti) cast in a small role which requires less clothing than talent; and "The Hand of God," a cleverly titled and hilarious story of a self-important antiques dealer (Kilgarriff) who misses the deal of a lifetime. In Program B, Ruoti takes on "Nights in the Gardens of Spain," featuring a woman whose involvement in her neighbor's adversity turns into her own tragedy, and "Bed Among the Lentils," in which a vicar's wife seeks breathing room in her claustrophobic life. Sandwiched between those two, Kilgarriff completes Program B with "Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet," in which a woman finds a spark late in a passion-free life.

Program A is highly recommended. With two appearances by the amazing Kilgarriff, and with all three pieces matching more in tone and humor, it's a nearly perfect evening. In fact, if Ruoti has settled more into her performance by now, it could be perfect already. Watching Kilgarriff is like reading a great book - her performance is fascinating and just delightful to view, and it's a letdown when the end of a monologue is reached. Bennett has created a compelling character in compulsive letter-writer Miss Ruddock, who must report every suspicious event or crack in the sidewalk to the "proper authorities." Seemingly never able to be happy (she is offended if her letters don't evoke a response, yet complains of workers wasting time when they do respond), the ending finds Miss Ruddock contentedly living right where she belongs, and Kilgarriff makes the transition exquisitely.

As Lesley, a ditzy actress, in "Her Big Chance," Ruoti is a bit uneven, but at times shows a great, quirky character. On opening night, Ruoti's accent was inconsistent and some awkward pauses took us out of the moment. Kilgarriff and Bennett are right in sync with "The Hand of God," in which Celia prides herself on knowing the value of every antique and collectible - all but one, it seems. All three of these pieces have great humor and well developed characters. All three characters end up better than they start out, and we can't help but root for them, though we maybe would find their real life versions very annoying.

Two of the pieces in Program B are more bleak, with Ruoti in "Nights of the Gardens of Spain" showing the downward turn of the life of a sunny, helpful neighbor. If you see Program A first, being hit with this at the beginning of the second night is really a downer. Ruoti's Rosemary holds her head high and nearly succeeds in ignoring a painful truth, but is doubly disappointed by the ending. Some sweet humorous relief is felt with the second piece, "Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet," with Kilgarriff inhabiting yet another interesting character who finds an escape from a life of melancholy.

Ruoti returns with her most compelling performance in "Bed Among the Lentils," in which Susan is suffocating in the nearly invisible life of a dutiful vicar's wife. Coping with alcohol and other escapes, she finds answers about God that her husband is unable to give her. Ruoti, transformed into a very plain-looking woman, does a good job with this inward character.

The functional Scenic Design by Anne Mundell is simple, with the small stage backed by a wide panel of framed rectangles, each featuring a different design and backlit individually during scene changes. Other necessary pieces, chairs and tables for example, are brought in and out as needed. Costumes by Michael McAleer are perfectly suited to the characters. Tracy Brigden continues to direct with a welcome light hand; with these two experienced actors, it's possible not much else was necessary.

Talking Heads continues at the City's Lester Hamburg Studio Theatre through May 14. For a schedule, most important for this production, and ticket information, call (412) 431-CITY [2489] or visit

Photo: City Theatre

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-- Ann Miner

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