Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

Three Brilliant Performances in Edna O'Brien's Triptych

Also see Richard's review of Lobby Hero

Tro M. Shaw, Julia Brothers
and Lise Bruneau

The Magic Theatre is currently presenting the world premiere of Edna O'Brien's Triptych, a provocative play about love and obsession. This taut 85 minute play strips back the deepest layers of three women who are simply called Mistress, Wife and Daughter. They all reveal their shared passion for one absent man.

Irish playwright O'Brien's novels were banned in Ireland (a priest did a public book burning of several of her novels that formed the Country Girl's Trilogy). Philip Roth called her "the most gifted woman now writing in English" and Henry Miller (whose books were banned throughout the world) said of the playwright, "The great Colette's mantle has fallen to Edna O'Brien - a darker writer, full of conflict."

Triptych is set around New York, and the characters emerge as each tells her own side of a story concerning Henry, a world renowned novelist we never see. The women occasionally come into contact with each other as we begin to discover the intertwining relationships. We see their differences and similarities; we see the worst in them, and what a person is willing to do or be for the sake of love. Love is a two edged sword to them, as it both frees and enslaves the women.

O'Brien's writing has skillfully removed the dialogue from any kind of soap opera. The dialogue bears the soul of each of the women and each character gives the audience a dramatic tale of her melancholy and self inflicted emotional persona. This drama is not for the whole family.

Triptych's three actresses are simply stunning. Lise Bruneau (who played the Angel in Angels in America before it went to New York) plays Clarissa the actress/mistress of Henry. She is glowingly charismatic as she goes from misgivings through conquest, troubles and even devastating depression. This is a piercingly intelligent emotional response to her relationship with the man. She is incredible.

Julia Brothers (recently in Nickel and Dimed) plays the neurotic wife Pauline who will hold on to her womanizing man at any cost, even that of her sanity. Her acting is superb when she becomes caustic, conceitedly superior and then angrily insecure. In the first scene, the mistress, Clarissa, is being stalked by Pauline at the opening of Clarissa's play, Duchess of Malfa. That scene is beautifully presented with the precision of a Swiss timepiece. Both actresses are splendid as they confront each other in further scenes.

Tro M. Shaw (young ACT actress) holds her own against the two veteran actresses as the daughter. We see her as a young teenager whose dad is at the center of her world. However, Henry is not there for her so she turns increasingly to booze, drugs and boys in search for affection, or even just attention. Her transition is remarkable.

Director Paul Whitmorth is presenting a very sharp production with an excellent set by Kate Edmunds. The set includes three separate areas, with two on the floor of the stage and a third built up to represent the daughter's bedroom. The two ground floor sets represent Henry and Pauline's living room stage left and Clarissa's theater dressing room stage right. Lighting by Kurt Landisman is top drawer.

Triptych has been extended through January 25th at the Magic Theatre, Building D, Fort Mason, San Francisco. For tickets call 415-441-8822 or visit

The Magic's next production is the world premiere of David Mamet's Dr. Faustus, which will be directed by the playwright. It opens on February 24th.

Photo: Bill Faulkner

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Richard Connema

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