Theater Reviews

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The Old Vic, London
Through Nov. 24

Great movies become good remakes almost never, but Samuel Adamson's inventive, funny and touching play "All About My Mother," based on Pedro Almo-dovar's Oscar-winning 1999 film, makes a strong case at the Old Vic that fine movies can make splendid theater.

Obviously going without Almodovar's lyrical screen imagery and flair for capturing actors in revealing close-ups, Adamson retains the filmmaker's time-shifting and weaving of scenes from stage and screen into real-time action.

The story of mothers and children and cockeyed families is reimagined with considerable fidelity to the original. The film's references to Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Federico Garcia Lorca and "All About Eve" are employed in similar but subtly different ways in the play.

Almodovar's eye-opening relish of Barcelona's colorfully reckless, sardonic and rueful nightlife is fully represented, and much of the comedy is enhanced with the broadness that theater allows. Director Tom Cairns manages the many scene changes deftly and stages crucial scenes with a good eye for the essential point.

In the film, Manuela sees her 17-year-old son, Esteban, run down and killed by a car in the rain while seeking the autograph of his favorite actress, Huma Rojo. The boy's heart goes in an organ donor scheme to a needy father. Returning to Barcelona to find the boy's father, she befriends a young woman, Rosa, who is pregnant by the same man who fathered Esteban. Hooking up with an old friend, Agrado, a transvestite prostitute, Manuela also seeks out Huma and becomes involved in her life with a heroin-addicted lover, Nina.

It's convoluted on paper, which says a great deal about Almodovar's skill as a filmmaker, but it also is testament to Adamson that he is able to keep all the characters clear and amplify the key themes and vital references, which have to do with tortured love, forbearance and forgiveness. While the son, Esteban, disappears early in the film, in the play the role is expanded and he is made narrator along with Agrado, played successfully by a man (Mark Gatiss) rather than as a woman in the film.

Colin Morgan, who won acclaim in the title role of "Vernon God Little" at the Young Vic, is an assured presence in an important role as Esteban, and Gatiss, of TV's "The League of Gentlemen," is a sparkling crowd-pleaser as the shrewd, caustic and sadly wise transvestite.

Lesley Manville, as Manuela, offers pleasing surprises throughout the play to compete remarkably in the imagination with the film's impeccable Cecilia Roth, and it's no fault of Joanne Froggatt, as Rosa, that she's not Penelope Cruz.

The Old Vic production's big name is Diana Rigg, playing the veteran actress Huma, who also is seen as Blanche in "A Streetcar Named Desire" and doing a scene from Lorca's "Blood Wedding." It's a relaxed and diverting performance perhaps because Huma is not the lead. Rigg has great fun with the more outrageous lines -- "I haven't sucked cock in 30 years" she declares with gusto -- and carries responsibility for the play's emotion many times but especially in the final scene like the star she is.

ALL ABOUT MY MOTHER
Presented by the Old Vic, Daniel Sparrow, Neal Street Prods., Dede Harris and DRB Prods.
Credits:
Playwright: Samuel Adamson
Based on the film by: Pedro Almodovar
Director: Tom Cairns
Set designer: Hildegard Bechtler
Costume designer: Moritz Junge
Music: Alberto Iglesias
Stage score: Ben & Max Ringham
Lighting designer: Bruno Poet
Sound designer: Christopher Shutt
Cast:
Esteban: Colin Morgan
Manuela: Lesley Manville
Nina Cruz: Charlotte Randle
Huma Rojo: Diana Rigg
Agrado: Mark Gatiss
Sister Rosa: Joanne Froggatt
Sister Rosa's Mother: Eleanor Bron
Isabel: Lucy-Anne Holmes
Mario del Toro/Gynecologist: Bradley Freegard
Doctor/"Streetcar" Actor/Lola: Michael Shaeffer
Alicia/Nurse: Yvonne O'Grady
Client/Alex: Robert Galas
Nun/"Streetcar" Actress: Eileen Nicholas
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