Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Top Girls

The first act is promising. Too bad the second is dated and the third full of clichés, in this revival of Caryl Churchill’s 1982 play.

Let’s start at the very beginning -- a very good place to start. In the first act, Marlene (Elizabeth Marvel), a 20th century woman, is throwing a party at a London restaurant to celebrate her promotion to managing director of her firm. She’s gathered five women -- historical, fictional and apocryphal -- from various centuries to join her. Among them are Pope Joan who, disguised as a man, is thought to have been Pope between 854 and 856 (Martha Plimpton), Patient Griselda, the obedient wife in The Clerk’s Tale of The Canterbury Tales (Mary Catherine Garrison) and the Victorian era world traveler Isabella Bird (Marisa Tomei). The idea of this scene is clever -- women throughout the ages getting together to talk about their lives. For the most part, it works.

The second act takes place in the Top Girls Employment Agency in London, where Marlene has just been promoted. Here the portrayals of women’s striving and struggling don’t hold up. They are too stereotypical.

In the third act, the sibling rivalry between Marlene and her sister, Joyce, (Tomei) is so full of clichés it's like watching a daytime drama.

I would have preferred a one act developed out of the first, instead of the two and a half hour play that really dragged and began to seem endless. It’s too bad because some of my favorite stage actors -- Garrison, Plimpton and Marvel -- are represented, doing their best with what they’ve got.

Top Girls was first performed at the Royal Court Theatre in London on Aug. 28, 1982, and transferred to The Public Theater in New York on Dec. 29, 1982. It played 40 performances and reopened at The Public in March 1983 with an American cast, playing 89 performances. Top Girls won the 1983 Obie Award for Playwriting and Ensemble.

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