Apologia “A formal written defense of one’s behavior, not to be confused with an apology.” Kristin Miller
Peter (Hugh Dancy), a banker, has brought new, Midwestern girlfriend, Trudi (Talene Monahon), to his mother’s birthday dinner at her home outside of London. The girl’s been warned that Kristin (Stockard Channing) is “opinionated, didactic, dictatorial.” That isn’t the half of it. Her reaction to their carefully chosen gift of a Liberian mask (purchased there while traveling, not in a museum shop), is met with barely hidden disdain. “…to expatriate…in exchange for a few hundred dollars…because it’s main purpose was clearly not decorative, seems disrespectful…”
Tonight’s matriarch is the kind of character whose judgmental, rapier tongue eviscerates with confidence. She and Trudi are Americans, but mom appears to look down on fellow citizens. Peter’s been raised in England. It’s clear from the get-go Kristen doesn’t approve of Trudi. When she discovers the young people met at a prayer meeting, she drops cutlery. “That’s one thing I thought I got right.” No one escapes. “How’s the bank…still raping the world?” she caustically remarks to Peter. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Hugh Dancy, Talene Monahon, Stockard Channing
In the 1960s, Kristen spent her angry, liberal youth at the barricades. Taking up residence in the UK to get away from her mother and pursue a higher degree in art history, she married an Englishman who appeared enlightened, but ultimately proved otherwise. She divorced, taking sons Peter and Simon, nine and seven, to Florence on a research trip.
Without her knowledge, the kids were spirited out of school and, in fact, Italy, by their father. A choice between career and custody was made. Imagine someone of that stripe accepting the kidnapping of her children. The boys were sent to boarding school. They became visitors and strangers.
Also expected tonight are old, dear friend and fellow activist, Hugh (John Tillinger), Kistin’s congenitally depressed son Simon (also played by Hugh Dancy with his hair combed to look like something out of Stephen King), who has left a message that he wants to talk to his mother, and Simon’s partner, Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a soap opera actress of little depth who might just as well have a bullseye on her back.
Adding oil to flame is the publication of Kristin’s memoir, which everyone has just read and cannot help but notice that there’s not a single mention of either Peter or Simon.
In the course of an evening and morning, Trudi sincerely spouts the kind of positivism/Christian ideology Kristin can’t abide, Claire is made to defend her artistic and wardrobe choices, and Simon, having lost yet another job, turns up late with a hand full of glass splinters. The women get skewered, sons are selectively heard, only Hugh, sometimes defending, sometimes comic relief, remains unattacked. Peter then Simon erupt. Trudi thinks she understands.
Megalyn Echikunwoke, John Tillinger, Talene Monahon, Hugh Dancy, Stockard Channing
That’s it. Somewhere among the clichés is a viable story concerning activism, feminism, and selfishness, but jerky construction and unfathomable direction work hard to obscure it. The end of Act I seems stuck in a missed cue. The end of the play is telegraphed. Writing ebbs and flows; there’s one passage about Giotto worth framing. Kristin’s zingers are often priceless.
Stockard Channing plays the entire show two-thirds facing the audience. There’s no connection to other actors, despite practiced tone. Occasionally her head swivels in someone’s direction, then moves back to the theater. Closing one’s eyes would often make the piece more effective.
As Kristin is the show’s axis, damage is appreciable. A pivotal scene between Simon and his mom is also handicapped. Here he stares directly ahead without expression, at length, no matter what she says. And then he doesn’t: “I woke up one morning and realized that pretty much everything we are and everything we do is a response against you.” While it’s clear Director Daniel Aukin intended to show Simon’s psychosis, it doesn’t read credible. As to Channing’s take, I haven’t a clue. Pacing lurches.
The rest of the cast is fine with Talene Monahon excelling in her well thought out, extremely annoying portrait of Trudi.
I found Dane Lafferty’s Set well arranged – two visible stairways are effectively employed – but too spare for Kristin’s character.
While Claire’s dress is supposed to be expensive and high style, Costume Designer Anita Yavitch has dressed her in urban evening wear inappropriate to the setting. Clothes suit other characters.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Stockard Channing
Roundabout Theatre Company presents
Apologia by Alexi Kaye Campbell
Directed By Daniel Aukin
Through December 16, 2018
Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46 Street