Rehashing a centuries-old debate, an erstwhile film critic (and aspiring moviemaker) declares that the theater has no relevance for his generation. Naturally, that remark doesn't sit too well with his girlfriend's mother -- an accomplished stage actress who reminds the young man that creating art is a greater calling than writing about it. While she's at it, the aging diva assails the brooding know-it-all with a few subjective pronouncements of her own, going so far as to imply that he's undeserving of her daughter's affections. For the remainder of Amy¹s View, this fractured family's conflicts travel on a parallel track with playwright David Hare's look at modern cultural divisions.
Despite some strong supporting performances, though, the Denver Center Theatre Company's production never quite makes it out of the station. As directed by Brice K. Sevy, the two-hour-plus show falters from the very start, when a group of black-clad stagehands mill about the Space Theatre as though they're readying it for the evening's performance. However, since none of them acknowledge the audience's presence prior to the start of the show (when one of their number turns, looks at us as though she's always known we've been there and announces the beginning of the first scene), the pre-show banter and oh-so-bored attitudes ring false. It's not a good start for a play that takes a put-it-all-on-the-table look at art, truth, beauty and love.
Of more serious concern is Sevy's handling of the relationship between Amy (Julie Fain Lawrence) and her mother, Esme (Gordana Rashovich). While each actress crafts a multifaceted, intriguing portrait -- Rashovich, in particular, shows flashes of the same formidable technique that propelled her portrayal of Maria Callas in last season's Master Class -- they never forge a believable, much less evolving, mother-daughter dynamic. When a visiting Amy reveals some life-changing news, for instance, Esme claims she sensed that very information coming from her daughter the moment she laid eyes on her -- but there's nothing in Lawrence's behavior or Rashovich's reaction to it that indicates that either of them is remotely aware of the other's thoughts or feelings. Nor do they make much of an effort to show us that they're masking feelings they'd rather not reveal. In Act Two, Amy and her mother lock horns in an emotional scene that exposes each character's long-held resentments and disappointments. But because neither woman has previously shown any genuine love for the other, we're not the least bit concerned that their acid arguing might destroy the central relationship in both of their lives.
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Space Theatre, Helen Bonfils Theatre Complex, 14th and Curtis
Through February 24, 303-893-4100
On the brighter side, DCTC newcomer Scott Ferrara delivers a fine portrayal of Dom, the theater-spurning critic turned small-screen auteur. The actor hits the right notes when defending Dom's critical stances during sharp exchanges that echo the ongoing debate in Britain between various governmental types and theater artists (most prominently Tantalus director Peter Hall) about theater's place in society. John Hutton combines mild-mannered prickliness with fuzzy warmth as Frank, Esme's well-meaning neighbor and scandalously inept financial adviser. Betty Low invests her portrait of mother-in-law Evelyn with equal measures of elegance and candor -- qualities that, in retrospect, prove all the more precious in light of her character's eventual demise. And John Sloan, as up-and-coming actor Toby, lends some welcome hope and uplift: Exuding an openness and likeability that bring to mind the raw talent and unschooled ways of, say, a young Tony Danza, Sloan delights as he ambles about a backstage dressing area while picking up pointers from the aging Esme.
Ultimately, though, it's hard to care about what happens to Esme and Amy or to become emotionally involved with the issues they raise, even though their personal concerns should, like the play's recurring discussions about art, resonate in universal ways.