Tomorrow: Theater Review
The fictional descendent of a famous acting family muses on aging and creative invention.
For lovers of theater history, Tomorrow provides a banquet of yesterday’s treats, as the walls of centenarian diva Abigail Booth (Salome Jens) are adorned with artifacts of legendary players, from Eva Le Gallienne to Ina Claire and Laurette Taylor to John Barrymore. This fictitious descendant of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth has remained secluded in her small West Hollywood estate after failing to secure funding for a theater. On the day Al Gore concedes the election to George W. Bush, Abigail and her nephew Jamie Booth (Geoffrey Forward) grant an audience to aspiring actor Laura Keating (Jenn Robbins), a scandal-plagued starlet who had drawn attention for her Alma in Summer and Smoke and now has been offered artistic redemption as Lady Macbeth, against the advice of her agent and manager. Laura wants coaching for this challenging role, and a frank assessment of whether she might truly be up to it.
“Loss of memory, memory of loss,” Abigail muses on aging, to which one might add that given the evanescence of the theatrical moment, it is indeed ironic that all these memories of the stage past predate the experience of virtually anyone now alive, instead being “false memories” of past truth. Playwright Donald Freed (Secret Honor, The White Crow, Inquest, American Iliad) has fashioned his entire vision around fantasies of history, fixating repeatedly on fanciful inventions about an imaginary Nixon, JFK, George W., Marilyn, the Rosenbergs. Freed was mashing up celebrity images before hip-hop left its cradle in the Bronx, but given his conspiratorial mien, he often opts to be cranky rather than dazzling, and more didactic than organic.
He does have a knack for disputation, and the training exercises and deep backstory rehearsals Laura undergoes under the tutelage of Abigail and Jamie (himself a great actor who in terror fled the boards forever in the middle of the dagger scene) are full of marvelous parsing of the characters in Macbeth.
We may never believe in Freed’s situations, but we do feel the compelling passion for text, voice and gesture. For that, Jens makes a superb avatar. Certainly among the least recognized of our theater’s great treasures, she has temperament to spare, an incandescent instrument, and she can command a scene with pointedly minimal means. She incarnates a reason to experience live theater. Forward’s part is more problematic, intentionally enigmatically written, but he suggests a full spectrum of inner conflicts with restraint and convinces both as a formerly great talent and as a broken factotum in the shadow of his star.
For all the dialogue about Lady Macbeth as one of the most challenging of women’s roles, it seems entirely possible that the part of Laura Keating may be more difficult. As written, she must project so many contradictory qualities from the ingenuous to the conniving, and exhibit such nuance of shades of performance both inadequate and incandescent, that one can respect Robbins’ yeoman effort and substantial chops without allowing that the character is actually playable. Few of the play’s problems are ameliorated by a marked failure to achieve plausibly effective interactions among the characters or by blocking across the wide stage that inexplicably undermines the connections between them.
Venue: Skylight Theatre (through April 21)
Cast: Salome Jens, Jenn Robbins, Geoffrey Forward
Director: Damian Cruden
Playwright: Donald Freed
Set and Costume designer: Stephanie Kerley Schwartz
Lighting designer: Jeff McLaughlin
Sound designer: Christopher Moscatiello
Producers: John Perrin Flynn and Gary Grossman, presented by Skylight Theatre Company, Rogue Machine and York Theatre Royal