BWW Review: Laura Linney Plays Both Sides of An Uneasy Mother/Daughter Relationship in MY NAME IS LUCY BARTON
Rona Munroe adapts Elizabeth Strout's 2016 best-seller
Good drama needn't call attention to itself and certainly a subtle, introspective theatre piece can provide an enormous impact, but if there's anything of intrigue lying beneath the surface of Rona Munroe's stage adaptation of novelist Elizabeth Strout's 2016 best-seller My Name is Lucy Barton (Strout is granted authorship credit), it wasn't apparent to this reviewer.
Directed by Richard Eyre, the solo play performed by Laura Linney that arrives on Broadway after an acclaimed London run is presented with professional polish, but for this playgoer, the ninety minute piece rarely rises above a level of respectable competency.
"There was a time," Lucy Barton tells us at the outset, "when I had to stay in a hospital for almost nine weeks."
Designer Bob Crowley's depiction of her memory of that temporary home is a bed, a chair and a picture-postcard view of the Chrysler Building.
Complications arising after a routine appendectomy are what keep Lucy confined for three months. It takes just a few minutes to set up that her husband feels extremely uncomfortable in hospitals, even after arranging for a bank account-draining private room. Their two young children react badly to seeing mommy in this setting so it looks like Lucy is going to spend most of her stay enduring severe loneliness.
Until she wakes up one day to find her long-estranged mother sitting bedside. Linney's smooth, pleasant voice alternates with the hard-edged rural midwestern accent of Amgasha, Illinois as she narrates the mother/daughter interactions that open up memories of a world she left to attend college in New York and establish a life in Greenwich Village as a successful writer.
Random events involving Lucy's dad's World War II post-traumatic stress disorder, and parenting decisions that to an outsider would surely seem abusive are anecdotally brought up and dropped. A contemporary relationship affected by the AIDS epidemic is also lightly handled.
As stories are told, Luke Halls' video designs display the kind of beautiful rural and urban landscapes you might find hanging in a gallery, contrasting with the darker aspects of the lives revealed.
But there's little in the way of a dramatic arc, nor much tension, as it's pretty apparent from the start that, as a whole, Lucy turned out okay.
On paper, the script of My Name is Lucy Barton is merely 36 pages long, and it reads nicely as a short story. Linney's performance is fine, but, as solo pieces go, the assignment doesn't appear especially demanding.
New York is famous for being a city where people arrive to disconnect from their upbringing to reinvent themselves, and those who have escaped from a world where they don't fit the norm may find themselves better connected to this play.