By: Isa Goldberg
October 27, 2018: Just the name of the actor, Stockard Channing, evokes images of a socialite, an elitist, in various forms. It’s an image she has created in numerous plays and films, the likes of Six Degrees of Separation, the television series, The Good Wife, and even in musicals such as, Pal Joey. That she first made her mark as a gum chewing teenager in the movie, Grease, is entirely consistent with her image.
In her current role, as Kristin Miller in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s drama, Apologia, Channing plays an American art historian, and noted author living in England. A youthful rebel of the ‘60s, Kristin came to Europe to escape the destiny of suburban life in America, which represented everything she found empty, and fruitless.
In fact, much of the conversation in the play’s first act evokes the clichés of the professional woman. Her references to the “outmoded patriarchal propaganda,” and “that damned Connecticut corset,” are spoken directly to the audience. Her behavior appears pretentious and self-protective.
As the play opens, her son Peter (Hugh Dancy) and his soon-to-be fiancé, Trudi (Talene Monahon) have arrived at Kristin’s cottage in the English countryside to fete her birthday. It’s 2009, and the play’s central conflict, Kristin’s ability to be a mother versus her commitment to her intellectual life, is quickly and openly evoked.
As written, the play is a series of debates about the morality of her choices. “An old commie,” she in turn, is put off by Trudi’s Christianity – not the sort of thing that suits Kristin’s belief system. And at the same time, she’s snide about Peter’s career in finance, his penchant for being a capitalist.
For the most part, the events appear self-evident, until the arrival of her younger son, Simon. It’s an amazing double act by Hugh Dancy, who portrays both the dry, and banal Peter, and his deeply-troubled brother. Simon, the character who suffers, is the central symbol of Kristin’s quest; and the two are inextricably bound to each other’s fate.
On the lighter side, John Tillinger, the well-known theater director, makes a welcome return to the stage, toting Simon’s girlfriend, played by the elegant Megalyn Echikunwoke, on his arm. As Kristin’s gay friend and ally, he defends her ambition, telling Peter, “she was doing it all for you, and anyone else who has a big house in the suburbs.”
Oddly, Campbell’s drama, speaking in the lingua franca of modern realism, feels like a work of much earlier vintage. It’s fidelity is to the works of Ibsen, as well as to classical tragedy, is visibly at work. Director Daniel Aukin allows those elements to breath beneath the surface of the dark drawing room – Kristin’s kitchen of dark wood, crammed with books, and possessing a broken oven in which nothing can bake. While Dane Laffrey’s set reflects her character, Bradly King’s lighting of Kristin tending to the shattered glass in Simon’s arms, feels ghostlike.
Stockard Channing is brilliant – it’s not a footnote to her great career, but rather a coming to terms with an image that still requires our awareness.
Roundabout Theatre Theatre Company at Laura Pels Theater/Harold and Miriam Sternberg Center for Theatre, 111 W. 46th Street in NYC.
Tue 7:30pm, Wed 2pm & 7:30pm, Thu—Fri 7:30pm, Sat, 2pm & 7:30pm, Sun 3pm.
Running time: two hours and 15 mins. including intermission.
October 16—December 16, 2018
Photography: Joan Marcus