Regional Reviews: Minneapolis/St. Paul
Also see Arty's reviews of Refugia and Red Velvet and Kit's review of Charles Francis Chan Jr.'s Exotic Oriental Murder Mystery
Hovering above all of these issues are the words in the play's title: Amy's view. Early in the play, Amy recalls a homemade newspaper she created when very young, using a children's rubber stamp printing set, which she called "Amy's View". She made copies to pass out to the neighbors, taking joy in expressing herself. We come to learn that Amy's point of view is belief in the goodness of people, and that genuine love can overcome any obstacle. Whether or not Amy's view works in the light of day is the filter through which the play's conflicts and entanglements are presented.
Amy's View comprises four scenes, each roughly half a decade apart. The first three are set in the well-furnished living room of Esme's home in Pangbourne, once a quaint rural town that in recent years has been encroached by urban expansion to become a suburb of London. This is Esme's retreat from the stress of the city and the exhaustion of the theater. She commutes an hour each way by taxishe refuses to driveto maintain a life that is both draped in the glamour of the theater and becalmed by the serenity of a country manse. Having her cake and eating it too, as it were. Also living in the house is Evelyn, the mother of Esme's late husband Walter.
Amy and her significant other, Dominic, have just shown up for a surprise visit with her mother. They chat with Evelyn as they await the cab bringing Esme home. This is Dominic's first time with Amy's family and Evelyn is raking him over the coals. He is a journalist who started a publication that critiques film, hoping it helps him to realize his ambition of directing movies. As with her childhood paper, Amy volunteers on production and distribution of Dominic's magazine, only now she is promoting his view instead of her own.
Once Esme arrives, it takes no time for her to 1) express concern for Amy's health, 2) suspect that Amywho visits infrequentlyis after something, and 3) size up Dominic as being unworthy of her daughter. After they share a guarded laugh over Dominic's description of the work he does ("We ring people up and we're terribly nice to them. Then we write something horrid which appears the next day."), he and Esme spar over the relative merit of theater versus film and television, with Esme voicing disdain for the latter and Dominic branding the stage as irrelevant to the dawning age. Amy just wants everyone to be close and tries her best to maintain peace. By the close of the scene, we know how near the mark Esme is on 1, 2 and 3 above, and it ends with a brash revelation.
The next three scenes build on the positions taken by each character from the start, with confrontations between Amy and Esme, Amy and Dominic, and Esme and Dominic pushing the narrative forward. In scene two we also meet Frank, a widower who is Esme's neighbor, financial advisor and suitor. Esme never paid heed to the financial aspects of her gilded life and is glad to have Frank take charge, especially as her career has stalled and cash flow tightened. She is more ambivalent about Frank's romantic interest in her. Dominic goes from ridiculing celebrities to becoming one, while Amy increasingly sacrifices her "view" to live through his. The last scene, primarily between Esme and Dominic, takes place backstage at a theater where Esme is appearing in a hit play, her career on the rebound, as she and Dominic come to an understanding of the importance of Amy's "view" in their lives.
David Hare's earliest stage successes, such as Plenty, Pravda, and A Map of the World, were overtly political. Amy's View is focused on personal drama as it examines the cost of serving as flame-tender to a loved one's blazing ego. Hare does imbed political themes, though, in contrasting Esme's affluence and privilege to the democratization of art, the effect of global finance (Lloyd's of London figures prominently at one point) on the pursuit of one's dreams, and whether the nobler course is to wage battle against the power brokers or stoically accept the hand that is dealt. The period of the play also coincides with Margaret Thatcher's time as British Prime Minister (1979-1990), a period when Great Britain was under a veil of austerity and a fraying social safety net. Esme fell victim to those circumstances, but her English-bred stiff upper lip held firm throughout.
The play's title would have one expect Amy to be the main character, but that is only partly true. As it turns out, Amy is the centered presence whose "view" serves as a pivot point for Esme and Dominic to rise and fall, like the fulcrum of a see-saw. This is true even when she is not on stage. Gary Gisselman's direction hones in well on the geometry of these relationships, with Esme and Dominic both bearing down upon Amy.
This is not to say that Amy is a weak character. Not at all. She has spirit, conviction, and the grit to honor her commitments. Tracey Maloney beautifully captures Amy's essence, an imperfect seeker of a life in which her "view" becomes truth. Linda Kelsey is an ideal match as Esme, her off-handed wit and sophistication revealed as a means of survival in an inconstant world. Hers is certainly the showiest character (the one that won Judi Dench the 1999 Tony), and Kelsey plays the resilient grand dame with gusto. Gabriel Murphy ably completes the three-way battle for influence as Dominic, smug in his values and self-regard, oblivious to the hurt he inflicts. Nathaniel Fuller is an affable Frank, unwilling or unable to admit that he has been taking advantage of Esme. As Evelyn, Cathleen Fuller starts out a sharp card but her deterioration as the years pass gives proof that the woes of life will pass all too soon. James Rodriguez, briefly on stage in the last scene, holds his own as Esme's star-struck co-star.
Joseph Stanley has done a lovely job of creating a country home that projects wealth, but in subdued taste. Aaron Chvatal has costumed the characters aptly, with Esme's wardrobe appropriately "Town & Country." Light and sound design are all up to the same high standard. My only quibble with the production is the question of British accents. These are in place when the play opens, but in later scenes, the accents lapse into a form of patrician speech that is not quite true British.
That small matter aside, Amy's View is a well-written play, with characters and circumstances that ring true. Though stronger in the realm of intellect than heart, it provides an emotionally rewarding resolution. With several strong performances bringing the work up another notch, it is definitely a worthwhile time at the theater. Amy's View is proof that, however Dominic may argue for film and video arts, the immediacy of live theater ensures it will live on.
Amy's View continues on the Proscenium Stage at Park Square Theatre through June 4, 2017. 20 West Seventh Place, Saint Paul, MN, 55102. Tickets: $40.00 - 60.00; under 30 discounted seats, $21.00; seniors (62+) $5.00 discount; military $10.00 discount; rush tickets, $24.00, available for unsold seats one hour before performance (cash only). For tickets call 651-291-7005 or go to parksquaretheatre.org
Writer: David Hare; Director: Gary Gisselman; Scenic Design: Joseph Stanley; Costume Design: Aaron Chvatal; Wig Design: Andrea Moriarity; Lighting Design: Michael P. Kittel; Properties: Robert "Bobbie" Smith; Dialect Coach: Keely Wolter; Stage Manager: Nate Stanger; Assistant Stage Manager: Samantha Diekman.
Cast: Cathleen Fuller (Evelyn Thomas), Nathaniel Fuller (Frank Oddie), Linda Kelsey (Esme Allen), Tracey Maloney (Amy Thomas), Gabriel Murphy (Dominic Tyghe), James Rodriguez (Toby Cole).