BWW Review: WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS, Jermyn Street Theatre
Jermyn Street Theatre kicks off their Scandal season with Woman Before a Glass, in which Peggy Guggenheim tells her own story. Written by Lanie Robertson and staged by Tom McClane in a recreation of Austin Pendleton's New York production, the piece is as gossip-filled and sleek as its main character.
Peggy, played by an unabashed Judy Rosenblatt, is introduced barging on the set, cigarette in hand, yelling at her Italian maid in a flurry of Italian obscenities and designer dresses and then immediately addressing her publlic. As she chooses what to wear for an interview filmed by RAI (the Italian national public broadcasting company) and a meeting with the Italian president in her Venetian Palazzo, surrounded by the works of art that she calls "my children", she nostalgically speaks about her life.
While the audience initially meet Peggy as a tongue-in-cheek character who loves talking about her escapades with now very famous artists, another version of the socialite seeps through in the course of the play. Rosenblatt presents a woman who's been abandoned by her children and is unable to love any men other than her father (who died in the Titanic wreckage) and John Ferrar Holms (a British literary critic who died suddenly in a riding accident).
Peggy might be the only character on stage, but art is alongside her for the whole time. The set, designed by Erika Rodriguez, is stylish and effective. Details of Peggy's private life are scattered all around: the elegant bottles of perfume on the dresser, the drinks trolley topped with Martini and gin, and the Alexander Calder hanging in the corner become only a few glimpses into her boisterous existence.
Self-indulgence permeates the show, as one would expect, but it's somehow smoothed by Rosenblatt's penchant for storytelling. She commands the small stage with ease and impetus as she pits the world's leading museums against each other for her collection while dealing with tragedy.
Woman Before a Glass becomes the portrait of a woman whose life was driven by an overbearing passion for art (and artists). Peggy Guggenheim keeps her status as an icon as the audience gains a new introspective perspective on the collector who single-handedly changed the history of art.
Photo Credit: Robert Workman