By EDWARD RUBIN
My Name Is Lucy Barton written by Elizabeth Stout and published to a chorus of Hosannas in 2016, is now a one-woman, two-character play – running through Saturday, February 29 – at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway.
Adapted from the book by Rona Munro and directed by Richard Eyre, ‘Lucy Barton’ stars Laura Linney, an actress whose every outing (be it film, stage and TV) seems to elicit a cascade of unanimous raves. Tellingly so, her Playbill bio lists countless nominations and acting awards. Linney’s last Broadway appearance was in 2017 in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. Here, alternating the roles of Regina and Birdie with Cynthia Nixon, Linney garnered her fourth Tony nomination.
I’d like to say the current edition of My Name Is Lucy Barton – which first opened in London in 2018 to rave reviews – blew me away. Alas, I found the entire one hour and ten-minute production, despite much talk about Lucy’s varied life experiences, listless to the point of boredom. It is not that the director (and I imagine Linney too) did not try to breathe some life onto stage by adding a little bit of movement, as well using various location projections (Bob Crowley), neither of which did much to quicken one’s mind or pulse.
The biggest problem, as I see it, is the play, still essentially a piece of literature better read than seen, is far too intimate for such a large venue. The result: it is all but lost in space.
Nevertheless, Lucy’s story is sensitively told by Linney, mostly in quietly delivered decibels. But Lucy’s journey, predictable from the get-go, offers no excitement, no surprises, and almost no humor, that is, unless you buy into the gossipy small-town stories told in a Midwestern bark by her visiting mother (also played by Linney). The play which covers Lucy’s journey from childhood, leaving home, marriage, two kids, a divorce, and remarriage, to becoming a writer of a bestselling book, does offer a few strands of beautifully written and heartfelt thoughts for the audience to think about, or wallow in, if that is their want.
Setting the scene, the play softly, almost apologetically, opens in an obvious hospital room with only a bed and a chair on view, with the casually dressed Lucy, coming downstage and informing the audience tentatively that “there was a time, and it was many years ago, when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks. This was in New York City. I think it was in those nine weeks, during those nine weeks that this begins. What begins is this story, or rather…this is the memory I reach to, to begin this story. Perhaps that is because, in those nine weeks, I was, at times, uncertain of my survival.”
As the story goes, Lucy went into the hospital to have her appendix taken out, and “after two days they gave me food, but I couldn’t keep it down. And a fever arrived. No-one could isolate any bacteria, or figure out what was wrong. No one ever did. Lucy informs us at this time she had a husband William who rarely visited her as he was busy running the household, busy with his job, and he hated hospitals, as his father died in one when he was 14. She also talked about missing her two young daughters who were at home.
Three weeks into her stay at the hospital, suffering from loneliness, Lucy wakes up, and sitting at the foot of her bed was her mother who she hadn’t seen in years. Hearing her mother call her by her pet name Wizzle, which she had not heard in years, calmed her down.
“It was as though all my tension had been a solid thing, and now it dissolved. That night for the first time I slept without waking.” Thus, begins the bulk of the play, around which spins most of the action (if you can call it that); for her mother, as Lucy tells us, in the five days she spends visiting Lucy rarely left the set’s one chair. This is her perch for the entire play. Lucy, on the other hand (not that it added much variance) does have some 15 feet of free reign.
There is a certain sadness, one can call it a disconnect, between Lucy and her mother. No doubt they love each other in their own way but there is too much baggage, and too many years to wade through, most of which remains silent, as neither ask the questions that would possibly pierce the protective wall surrounding them. The mother never asks about Lucy’s husband, and Lucy never questions her mother about her still-living father who fought in the Second World War and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.
We do learn that Lucy and her siblings were beaten and deprived of TV, films, and magazines, and that her father once locked Lucy in his truck. A lot of time is spent during the mother’s visit with each of them staring at each other in wonder, if not disbelief.
After five days, the mother leaves as abruptly as she appeared. “I have no idea if she kissed me goodbye, but I cannot think that she would have. I have no memory of her even kissing me,” Lucy says. “She May have kissed me though; I may be wrong.”
Amidst telling the story of her life, both then and now, Lucy does manage to ask her mother if she loves her. The answer, indicative of their guarded relationship: “When your eyes are closed.”
As far as Lucy opening up to her mother, “I wrote my mother a letter. I said I loved her, and I thanked her for coming to see me in the hospital. I said I would never forget that. The mother’s answer, arriving on a postcard signed ‘M’: “I will never forget that either.”
A resigned peace seems to have taken place on both sides.
Cast: Laura Linney
Technical: Scenic and Costume Design: Bob Crowley, Lighting Design: Peter Mumford, Sound Design: John Leonard, Video Design: Luke Halls
My Name is Lucy Barton opened on Wednesday, January 4, 2020 at the Samuel J. Friedman in New York City at 261 West 47th Street. 108 East 15th street. It closes on Saturday, February 29, 2020. Written by Elizabeth Stout, adapted by Rona Munro, and directed by Richard Eyre. Running Time: One hour, 10 minutes with no intermission. For more information, or to buy tickets click on manhattantheatreclub.com or call 212- 239-6200.
(Edward Rubin is a member of American Theatre Critics Association, NYC’s Drama Desk, and the Outer Critics Circle.)