Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

A Thoughtful Production of Israel Horovitz's My Old Lady with Three Top Notch Actors

Also see Richard's reviews of Tchaikowsky and Other Russians and Okra

The Marin Theatre Company continues its 2004 season with My Old Lady by Israel Horovitz, who refers to his play as a "valentine to Paris," a city where his works are very popular. The play begins as a light comedy but becomes a morally complex play in the second act with some splendid acting by Joy Carlin, Nancy Carlin and Anthony Fusco.

My Old Lady had its world premiere at the playwright's own theater in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The Mark Taper Forum mounted the play in early 2002 with the great English actress Sian Phillips playing "the old lady." The provocative work was then presented at the Promenade Theatre in New York later in 2002 with Ms. Phillips repeating the role.

My Old Lady opens with an elderly Parisian gentlewoman sitting in a minimally furnished apartment overlooking the Jarden de Luxemburg. The grand apartment has seen better days, but there is still a look of luxury about the place. Mathilde Giffard (Joy Carlin) alludes to being 92 while her 50-something daughter Chloe (Nancy Carlin), who has never married, says her mother is 94. Mathilde has that intelligent, sophisticated French charm while her daughter is an emotionally restrained school teacher and very strict, which makes for a dysfunctional relationship.

To shake things up, Mathias Gold (Anthony Fusco) enters the picture. He is an American writer who is penniless and calls himself a "loser." He has inherited the Paris apartment from his deceased father Max. He says the only thing the father left him was the apartment and a dozen books in French which he cannot read. Mathias' plan is simple: fly to Paris with what money he has left, sell the apartment and finance a new life. However, this is an inheritance with strings attached.

Max bought the apartment many years before at below-market value as a "viager," meaning, under Parisian law the new owner cannot occupy the apartment until the existing occupant dies, with the added proviso that the owner is responsible for the tenant's maintenance fees. The healthy 90 plus mother and her daughter are not about to give up the place. Ever-practical Mathilde decides to rent a room in the big house to Mathias which infuriates the daughter. Mathias becomes very intrigued with both women and a romantic interest develops between Chloe and Mathias.

Mathias is a real loser. He has been married three times, he views his father with contempt and disdain, he can't get published and he has no viable assets. He also drinks a lot. He is a very complicated character. His defense mechanism is to joke a lot and use humor to cover up the pain of his rage against his father. Mathias' Jewish fixation is a counterpoint to the European, Parisian feelings and outlooks of Mathilde and Chloe.

All goes well until a bombshell hits at the end of the first act. The old lady declares she was the mistress of Max many years ago and she was given the apartment as their "love nest." The second act is taken up with discussions of the moral questions involved in Max's behavior which bring in additional emotional bombshells. Suddenly, this comedy turns into a beguilingly rich three-character play. The pasts of these three persons become intertwined with further exposures about what occurred years ago.

Joy Carlin, as usual, gives a superlative performance as the worldly, wise and sophisticated old lady. She maintains a Parisian accent thoughout the production, and sometimes her voice becomes lower, making it inaudible to the audience. This projection should clear up as the play continues. Nancy Carlin gives an excellent performance as a straight laced, no holds barred Frenchwoman. Anthony Fusco is very good as the complex American. He delivers his intoxicated scenes with self-confidence. Both Joy Carlin and Anthony Fusco are superb at illustrating how the characters banter each other in the first act.

Eric Sinkkonen's Parisian baroque apartment set is very imposing. Even the old pot belly stove on stage left looks a little worse for the wear. Tom Ontiveros's lighting design is excellent. Amy Glazer gets top grade performances from the three actors and she keeps things moving at a rapid pace.

My Old Lady runs through April 11 at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5208 or visit Coming next to the MTC is Alan Ayckbourn's Communicating Doors which opens on May 13.

Photo: Ed Smith

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

- Richard Connema

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