Five Reasons Not to Apologize for Enjoying Apologia
By: Iris Wiener
At first glance it might seem difficult to get behind Apologia. At times the show is a slow burn, but one that is arguably worth sticking out. American-born Kristin (Stockard Channing) survived her formative years in the 60s amid the political protests of Western Europe. Now living in England, the judgemental, complex author and acclaimed art historian is throwing herself a birthday dinner with her two British sons and their significant others visiting for the occasion. Her consistent jabs at those around her are a front for deeper, intriguing issues that are not entirely engaging in this piece, but still add a layer of depth to a story that is ultimately fulfilling. It’s not necessary to apologize for enjoying Alexi Kaye Campbell’s play because…
1. “Apologia” is not to be confused with an apology. Apologia is a “formal, written defense of one’s opinions or conduct,” according to Channing’s character, Kristin. She never makes apologies; neither should you.
2. Stockard Channing. Her ability to chew on biting, sarcastic words. She created her character when the play premiered in London, and Channing has clearly honed Kritin’s persona. Every dig at her son, Peter (Hugh Dancy) and his fiancee Trudi (Talene Monahan) is practically ground between her teeth, much to the audience’s delight. Early on she asks Peter, “How’s that bank you work for? Still raping the third world?” Her veiled insults quickly lead to moments of humor at some of the more tense moments, a trick that might fall in lesser hands. (Kudos to director Daniel Aukin for his direction of these gems as well.)
3. The epic dinner party. The oven is broken, hard truths are revealed, wine is poured (and spilled), and familial angst is at its finest. The delicious debates are executed like finely tuned choreography. Issues of wealth, age, idealism and the practicality of art in a charged setting that not only includes Peter and Trudi, but also Hugh (John Tillinger), Kristin’s longtime gay friend who has been in the proverbial trenches with her, and son Simon’s actress girlfriend Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke). The last moments of this “party” are revelatory, in and of themselves prescribing over-drink discussion after the show.
4. John Tillinger and Talene Monahan. Tillinger’s is a name that you should know, but you don’t. No stranger as an actor and director for the stage (where he in fact appeared with Channing in Joe Egg), he commands every scene in which he appears…sometimes, without even speaking. His dialogue is the least important at the aforementioned party, but just try to keep your eyes off of him as he hunts for a rogue fingernail throughout. Tillinger acts as the perfect right hand for Channing. Monahan’s Trudi is everything that Kristin is not, and the actress deftly embodies the slow reveal of layers under which Peter’s Christian-American fiancee is hidden. Trudi’s hyperbolic attitude is never boring, and Kristin’s response to it is one of the finest aspects of the play. “Forgiveness is so liberating,” she imparts to her future mother-in-law, a woman who has clearly seen the world through a more raw lens. Channing’s glare in response to this treat is priceless.
5. The pay-off. Admittedly, it takes too long to get there and the play is problematic. However, Apologia can’t help but elicit conversation from audiences. Kristin’s two sons (both played by Hugh Dancy with annoyingly convenient staging) confront their emotions over their mother having left them in the care of their father years ago. Should we begrudge Kristin for her feminist views and the choices that were, in part, a product of them? Conversely, should we applaud her perspective and chide her parenting decisions? The complexity with which the protagonist is flawed is crafty and worthy of discover.
The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center For Theatre
The Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street, New York, NY, 10036 212.719.1300
Photography: Joan Marcus
2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission