Earlier generations may have had Eleanora Duse or Sarah Bernhardt, but we have Olympia Dukakis, and that's all the proof we need that things just keep getting better and better.
Ms Dukakis is at the moment comfortably encamped at the Lyceum Theatre, where she opened last night in Martin Sherman's dazzling and gut-wrenching one-woman play Rose. Lincoln Center Theater imported this production of Rose for a limited run, from London's Royal National Theatre, where it premiered last year and played to a sold-out run. (You've got to hand it to those Brits; they know talent and theatrical genius when they see it.)
Rose has been given one of those productions where the whole is a great deal more than the sum of its parts. Sherman's play is sharp and focused, detailing in exquisitely chosen words the life story of one feisty Jewish woman who, as she puts it "stinks of the last century." Nancy Meckler has made a combination of absolutely on-the-nose and risky directorial choices, not the least of which is to allow Dukakis to remain seated on a bench placed center stage for the entire evening. Sherman and Meckler must understand each other very well; the words and direction are so completely integrated that it's impossible to know, or even guess who contributed what to any given moment.
And then there is Olympia. To say that she is giving a brilliant, tour-de-force performance would be saying too little. Every word is clear, with exactly the right inflection, and rings true as a bell. Every shrug, every pause, every gesture - subtle as they are - carries a weight and meaning. Each moment is so simple, straightforward, and honest, it's all too easy to lean back and let the performance flow in the air around you, without realizing how completely you are being drawn into the story.
Bring a handkerchief. You will be sobbing before the evening is over, just as surely as you will jump to your feet cheering and applauding wildly at its triumphant end.
Rose by Martin Sherman. Directed by Nancy Meckler. Starring Olympia Dukakis. Designed by Stephen Brimson Lewis. Lighting by Johanna Town. Sound by Peter Salem and Scott Anderson.
Theatre: Luceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street (between Broadway and 6th Avenue)
Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission
Schedule: Monday through Saturday at 8 PM, Saturday at 2 PM
Audience: May be inappropriate for children 12 and under. Children under 4 are not permitted in the theatre.
Ticket prices: $60, $50, and $30
Tickets online: TeleCharge
Tickets by phone: TeleCharge at (212) 239-6200, or outside the New York metro area (800) 545-2559, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Tickets in person: Box Office hours Monday through Saturday 10 AM to 8 PM, Closed Sunday
Tickets by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets by Snail mail: Rose, PO Box 998, Times Square Station, New York, NY 10108-0998