“Lonely was the first flavor I tasted in my mouth and it was always there.”
As exemplified by Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout writes with harsh directness. Her protagonists may evidence introspection, but it’s rarely acknowledged. Feeling is circumspect, thoughts emitted without fanfare, adjectives rare.
There’s no fourth wall. Lucy Barton (Laura Linney) addresses us with a story she wrote after spending nine weeks in hospital (in the 1980s) with an unidentified, near fatal disease. Three weeks in, much to her shock, Lucy’s long estranged mother took up residence at the foot of the bed. “Mommy,” replete with her exaggerated, broad A, is fluidly channeled by both Lucy AND Linney.
It’s clear the acorn didn’t fall far. Her mother is equally unemotional. Requested gossip features townswomen jealous of social status as if to say Lucy herself had risen too far for her family. Siblings are also alienated. When anything intimate occurs, her mother leaves the room. Estrangement is key. Lucy’s always been an outsider, only some of which is of her own making.
We hear about severe childhood on an isolated Illinois farm from which Lucy fled. Sometimes this is shared in great detail, at others it pointedly avoids what’s too horrific to say aloud: “the thing” her father did when “not in control.” Other influential men include deceased friend Jeremy (her only friend?), two husbands (reason for divorce is wonderfully spot-lit by a single incident), and a father-figure doctor whom she adores.
Train of thought contains hospital time and, as she’s looking back, that which occurred much later. Unpremeditated tangents are realistic. Relations with Lucy’s mother eventually come full circle. Nothing decisive happens, no great revelations arise. I presume we’re supposed to feel the character has come into her own.
Lucy Barton is the kind of no nonsense character at which Laura Linney excels, an example of superbly honed technical ability. Every gesture and pause are sharply defined. Speech is selectively emphasized, though sometimes too fast to credibly reflect thinking/ recollection. Movement emerges graceful even when abrupt.
We buy that Lucy is damaged and observe chinks, but withholding is maintained. Linney’s performance is unmoving. I can’t help but recall Frances McDormand’s performance as Olive Kitteridge which, though cold, was nonetheless wrenching.
It’ impossible to tell whether Director Richard Eyre interpreted Lucy this way or the character is filtered through Linney’s own modus operandi. With audience on both sides of the stage, Eyre effectively has the protagonist addressing all. Morphing from Lucy to her mom with only a chair and bed on which the actress can perch, is fluid. (Lighting helps distinguish change.)
Minimal Set and Dowdy Costume by Bob Crowley serve in tandem with evocative Video Design by Luke Halls and splendid Lighting by Peter Mumford.
I found intermittent accompanying music (Sound Design John Leonard) irritating and intrusive- as if pandering to accustomed television mentality.
Photos by Matthew Murphy
Manhattan Theatre Club & The London Theatre Company present
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Adapted by Rona Munro
Directed by Richard Eyre
Through February 29, 2019
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre 261 West 47th Street