By: David Sheward
Late in the second act of Liz Flahive’s The Madrid, there is a moment that mixes sadness and silliness, melancholy and madness. Heidi Schreck as Becca, a suburban mom, is dressed for Halloween as the demented ballerina Natalie Portman played in the movie Black Swan.
Becca is confronting Sarah, the 20-ish daughter of her best friend, with her suspicions about the young woman sleeping with her husband, Danny. There are many layers to the scene. Becca isn’t angry with Sarah, she wants to protect her from Danny’s fecklessness, he’s done this sort of the before and the previous girl, their son’s math tutor, got seriously hurt. Becca’s also jealous, not because of extramarital sex-there wasn’t any-but because Danny feels he can talk openly with these young women in a way he can’t with his wife. In another twist, Becca hasn’t even seen Black Swan; Danny saw it without her, and she chose this costume to please him. Flahive’s sensitive writing and Schreck’s brittle, broken-doll limning combine to make the vignette oddly sweet and heartbreaking.
The trouble is The Madrid is not about Becca; she’s a supporting character. The play is about her best friend Martha, played by the admirable Edie Falco. Martha has disappeared from her job as a kindergarten teacher and her loving home with fellow instructor John and their offspring the recent college grad Sarah. Martha cashes out her life insurance policy and takes up residence at the titular establishment, a nearby rundown apartment building with noisy neighbors and cracked walls (realized with appropriate sleaziness by set designer David Zinn). Martha doesn’t appear to have much ambition beyond being on her own and hanging out at a local bar where she secretly meets Sarah with whom she still wants to maintain a relationship.
Flahive, a writer and producer of Falco’s excellent Showtime series Nurse Jackie, has failed to develop Martha, John, or Sarah sufficiently to justify their position at the center of the play. We just know that Martha yearns to be free of family ties and has a history of running away. Despite Falco’s considerable talent, Martha comes across as selfish and disconnected. There is no internal conflict between her desire for freedom and her love for her daughter, which is stronger than her ties to John. Her husband is just a lovable lug with a fondness for history, and John Ellison Conlee cannot do much with the skimpy material except look sad. As the grown child torn between two parents, Sarah is the most developed of the family, and Phoebe Strole fiercely vivifies Sarah’s confusion, anger, and need to return to normalcy. There are also strong efforts from Frances Sternhagen as Martha’s cold mother and Christopher Evan Welch as the needy Danny.
Director Leigh Silverman manages to provide a few moments of gentle humor and realistic quirkiness. But with the exception of Schreck’s shattering performance, The Madrid seems like a bad imitation of the lovely, funny-sad novels of Anne Tyler.
February 26, 2013
Feb. 26-Apr. 21. Manhattan Theatre Club at NY City Center Stage I, 131 W. 55th St., NYC. $85. Tue-Wed 7pm, Thu-Fri 8pm, Sat 2pm & 8pm, Sun 2pm. Running time two and half hours with one intermission. (212) 581-1212.
Originally Published on February 26, 2013 in ArtsinNY.com