by Eugene Paul
plus Mattie (Susan Pellegrino) all adither, frightened delight on her face,
waves ditherishly out the huge windows at someone, then skitters off. Seventy
plus Norton (Ray Baker) comes down the front stairs, looks around, darts into
the living room and climbs to his favorite spot up the library stairs, hides
behind a colored sheet. Constance (Lynda Gravatt) moseys carefully with her
cane into the living room archway, casts a jaundiced look at the premises,
slowly walks off. We have just met these people but already we know that Mattie
and Norton, despite their years, are still children, living in their special
playhouse, atop a mystical hill in a California we never knew.
designer Cheryl Liu has created a charming, whimsically decorated environment
and those huge windows everybody looks out of are, of course, all across the
front of the stage, which gives her absolute license to set the inevitable face
fronting couch right smack at us.
who enters? A breath of fresh air? Sister Lucy (Anne O’Sullivan). Not
exactly. Lucy, all smiles, limber beyond her years from all her Yoga, decked
out in her Indian finery, has come for a little visit to Mattie and Norton
who’ve been more than a trifle leery of her flibbertigibbet ways. Not that
they’re any prizes themselves. For instance, Mattie has just made herself a
Bunny outfit, very pink, plus the required ears and cottontail, for Easter.
She loves Easter. All those good things for children. Not that she has any of
her own, she’s a spinster. And Norton pretty much crawled into his shell when
his wife died years ago, reverting to the adolescent nerd he once was. And
Constance? Constance used to keep house for them when she was able bodied. Now,
she’s old, still lives there, still collects a salary. They cosset her. She’s
retired into full big mother mode for these kids. Lucy who has just turned up
is their “hummingbird” who flits from flower to flower, husband to husband. All
of them empty, empty lives.
Pictures courtesy of www.HummingbirdOffBroadway.com
they clutter their lives. Not only with things, but with wishes, with
memories, with anything that will take them out of themselves, even magical,
spiritual wonderments, until wonderments come right into the house. One of
Lucy’s guru types invades their kitchen and is so luminescently magical we’re
never allowed to see him, presumably because we would fall under the spell he’s
cast over them. Not Constance. No, she’s got a harder head than that.
Although, there is something a teeny bit eery about her sometimes. The guru we
never see is asked to leave, and does, but not before leaving an envelope for
each of them. What’s inside? Dast we find out? Then he walks to the front
lawn below the house, and as they watch, he rises in the air and disappears.
They swear. They all see it happen.
kind of whimsical, wishful thinking is the way director John Augustine has
approached playwright Margaret Dulaney’s play, which is not what playwright
Dulaney needs. Her play needs a firm grip and a clear mind. You cannot go
along with her spiritual bonhomie or everything fritters away, into offstage
happenings defying gravity and sense which we are asked to believe because her
characters experience these magical moments. They are her sugar coatings for “End
of Life” as the characterization of the play has been dubbed. And there’s the
rub. We are to believe that Lucy, Mattie and Norton see these levitations
before their astonished eyes. But (a), we don’t, (b) we should have if
playwright Dulaney really wants to pull our chains, and, worst of all, (c) the
actors themselves are not convinced. Then how could they convince us? Well,
there’s also (d) Aw c’mon. Really? And (e) What’s it supposed to mean? Just go
with the flow? It’s a play. You can do stuff like that in a play. Yes, you
certainly can. If you’re good enough. It all starts with the play. This one
is a mere wisp.
Pellegrino as Mattie has flashes of genuineness that could have led somewhere
if it was there in the first place. As is the case with Anne O’Sullivan playing
Lucy., whose “humming bird” attributes suggest so much more than appears.
Lynda Gravatt, emptiest of all as Constance, pours a full press on the role and
achieves the most substance. Ray Baker as disengaged brother Norton is
marvelously handsome at his advanced age but hasn’t a clue. And no director
gave him one.
It’s not an “End of Life” play. These ancient children obviously have another
thirty years of emptiness ahead of them. It’s pleasant. And nice to look at. And
nobody’s a bad person. Pass the sour cream and onion potato chips.
At St. Clement’s Theatre, 423 West 46th Street.
$59-$99. 866-611-4111. 110 min. Thru Nov 22.