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It’s not surprising that Edie Falco would have been attracted to The Madrid, the new off-Broadway drama being presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club. The intriguing storyline concerns a woman who suddenly walks out on her husband and 22-year-old daughter. And the play was written by Liz Flahive, a producer on Falco’s acclaimed Showtime series Nurse Jackie.
But the material sadly lets her down. While brilliant as the pill-popping nurse attempting to juggle her messed up personal and professional lives, Falco is disappointingly one-note in this shallow drama whose opaque central character never comes into focus.
The play begins with kindergarten teacher Martha (Falco) having already disappeared from the lives of her loving husband John (John Ellison Conlee) and vivacious daughter Sarah (Phoebe Strole). John is bereft, organizing a yard sale to dispose of their possessions, while Sarah is left adrift and confused.
Eventually, Martha reappears, suddenly showing up at the Starbucks where Sarah works. It turns out she is living nearby, in a shabby downtown apartment house dubbed “The Madrid.” When she takes up her mother’s invitation to stop by, Sarah is aghast at the rundown abode, littered with empty pizza boxes and featuring a beanbag chair, a small television equipped with rabbit ears and a poster of Jane Fonda’s old mug-shot. It turns out that Martha, who has apparently been saving up for years to finance her escape, is spending her time at a local bar emceeing open-mike nights.
Other characters figuring in the proceedings are John’s long-married neighbors Becca (Heidi Schreck) and Danny (Christopher Evan Welch), with the latter seeming to have an uncomfortably close relationship with Sarah; their neurotic, freakishly tall teen-age son Dylan (Seth Clayton); and Martha’s elderly mother Rose (Frances Sternhagen), who’s in the early stages of dementia.
The playwright fails to deliver on her provocative premise, frittering away the tension in scenes featuring plenty of quirky comic dialogue but little in the way of psychological depth. Silly jokes abound, such as Becca suddenly showing up in a “Black Swan” costume because it’s Halloween or Dylan affecting the booming voice of a giant to placate the addled grandmother. Despite some affecting moments, the play lacks narrative momentum or dramatic impact, and the wanderlust of the midlife crisis-afflicted Martha is never satisfactorily explored. Director Leigh Silverman is ultimately unable to reconcile the play’s ever-shifting tones.
Falco, who spends much of the play with a sheepish grin plastered on her face, fails to make much of an impression. The supporting players fare much better, with Conlee and Strole quietly moving as the confused family members left behind and Welch providing subtle grace notes as the quietly anguished Danny. Unfortunately, most theatergoers won’t have the opportunity to appreciate the latter’s performance, since the actor is almost immediately departing the production to begin filming a pilot for HBO.
Venue: New York City Center Stage I, New York (runs through May 5)
Cast: Seth Clayton, John Ellison Conlee, Edie Falco, Brooke Ashley Laine, Heidi Schreck, Frances Sternhagen, Phoebe Strole, Christopher Evan Welch
Director: Leigh Silverman
Playwright: Liz Flahive
Set designer: David Zinn
Costume designer: Emily Rebholz
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Jill BC Du Boff
Presented by Manhattan Theatre Club
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