Apologia

Theater
3 out of 5 stars
Apologia
Photograph: Courtesy Joan Marcus

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

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Theater review by Adam Feldman 

Kristin Miller (Stockard Channing), the caustic central character of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, doesn’t suffer fools gladly—or anyone gladly, really—which is not to say that she doesn’t suffer: Campbell makes sure of that. A prominent art historian and activist, Kristin prioritized her career over her family in the 1970s, leaving her two now-grown sons feeling beached by her second-wave feminism. It is 2009, and she is at her English country cottage, hosting a small birthday gathering that quickly turns ugly. Older son Peter (Hugh Dancy), a banker with a fervently Christian American girlfriend named Trudi (Talene Monahon), is peeved at being left out of Kristin’s recent memoir; when his perpetually screwed-up brother, Simon (Dancy again), shows up later, he has a blank stare, a bleeding hand and a long guilt trip for his mother at the ready. The chickens have come home to roost, or at least to cluck at her.   

Drawing on inner reserves, Channing manages to make Kristin—who is gratuitously mean to nearly everyone, including Simon’s shallow (and shallowly written) actress girlfriend, Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke)—a compellingly conflicted figure, but the play doesn’t give her a lot to work with. It creaks with contrivances (identical mobile phones, a randomly meaningful African mask) and clunky, expositional dialogue (“‘Kristin Miller’s series of articles for The New Statesman in the 1970s changed the way we look at art forever,’” says Trudi. “That’s a quotation I found online.”). Director Daniel Aukin doesn’t seem to know how to handle the play’s schlock factor: Perhaps eager to avoid making Trudi a stereotype, he elicits a bafflingly stiff performance from Monahon, and stages Simon’s scene in near-total darkness, as though he were telling a ghost story. It looks serious, but is it? Like Wendy Wasserstein’s looser-limbed The Heidi Chronicles, which is also about an art historian, the play means to examine the costs paid by women who open their own doors: “The pioneers. The first ones in uncharted territory. The map-makers. They’re the ones who pay the price so that the rest of us don’t have to,” as someone puts it. But it’s not grounded deeply enough in reality to tell us much about those women—except, perhaps, to remind us of the pleasure we still seem to take in making them cry. 

Laura Pels Theatre (Off Broadway). By Alexi Kaye Campbell. Directed by Daniel Aukin. With Stockard Channing, Hugh Dancy. Running time: 2hrs 10mins. One intermission.

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