Some time ago, I met Kathleen Widdoes at a writers' conference in Prague. Most people who recognize the name at all know Widdoes from her role on As the World Turns, but she is a classically trained stage actress; I remembered her as a vital, witty and beautiful Beatrice in Joe Papp's Much Ado About Nothing years earlier. "Kat," she said when we were introduced, holding out her hand. It was unmistakably an actor's voice, clear, low and melodious. Later, a group of us wandered into a smoky Czech pub, looking for dinner. The place was off the beaten track, the menu was in Czech, and the proprietor spoke no English. Widdoes took over the task of communication. I don't remember exactly how she did it -- some combination of sign language and laughingly ill-pronounced words from a pocket dictionary, perhaps -- but she coaxed a recommendation from him. When she was done, she raised three fingers to her lips and blew him a little kiss. The Czechs are a dour people; you wouldn't expect much reaction from a stolid Czech pub owner to a middle-aged woman's air kiss, but this one laughed with pleasure and waited on us with special assiduity all night.
The protagonist of David Hare's Amy¹s View is Esme Allen, a London stage actress of Widdoes's generation. By the play's opening, Esme's star has dimmed, and she hasn't worked in a few years. Still, she's stylish and witty, accustomed to sweeping into rooms and commanding attention. She believes in the theater as an art form and a purveyor of culture. But Esme's daughter, Amy, has fallen for Dominic, a young man with directly antithetical values. To begin with, Dominic is American -- almost always shorthand for vulgar and corrupt in English drama -- as well as a would-be film director and critic who hates what he considers the elitism of conventional theater. He believes in populist art; the traditions of his adopted country mean nothing to him. What matters is the future.
It's not that Esme and Amy are unaware that the England they love is fading, that villages full of thatched cottages have become sleeper suburbs of an all-encroaching London or that the love of the English for their historic places, Gothic churches and village fetes may represent little more than useless nostalgia. It's that they understand what has been lost.
The fate of traditional art and culture in a fast-paced, visual, hyper-kinetic and hyper-communicative world is one of Hare's themes. But Amy's View is also about the troubled relationship between Esme and Amy -- with a side glance at the evils of capitalism, as exemplified by the corruption of Lloyd's of London, an insurance firm that was once the epitome of solid English business practice.
Esme not only loathes Dominic, but she can see right through him, and she makes a fairly unprincipled attempt to break up his relationship with Amy. It fails, and Dominic turns out to be just as bad for her daughter as Esme had feared. The women never really reconcile, and the ending, in which Dominic displays a hitherto hidden humanity, is not entirely convincing.
The story of Amy's View is told in four acts of swift, incisive dialogue that pivots around Esme -- a problem for this Miners Alley production, since Paige L. Larson is miscast in the role. The other actors are quite good: L. Corwin Christie is an appealing Amy, with an urchin, flyaway quality that smooths into a more grown-up manner as the play progresses; Jake Mechling gives us a self-centered and quietly determined Dominic; Marion R. Rex is moving as the grandmother whose slow descent into senility and irrelevance perhaps mirrors the decline of England; and Verl Hite is a solid presence as neighbor Frank Oddie. Richard H. Pegg's set and direction, too, are meticulous. But while Larson does well with the accent and captures many of the mannerisms, she simply doesn't have the carriage, self-possession or magnetism to play Esme. She'll toe in as she sits, or curl a leg beneath her in a comfortable manner that's pure Colorado.
This is not a woman whose air kiss could send a waiter scuttling to serve her.
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