Maudie & Jane
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
December 5, 2007
Maudie & Jane, The Living Theatre's follow-up to their startling revival of The Brig, couldn't be more different from its predecessor or more disappointing. Considering the company's well-established avant-garde pedigree, Luciano Nattino's two-hander about the unlikely friendship between a fashion magazine editor and a destitute elderly woman is remarkably conventional. No matter how much the author and director Hanon Reznikov try to fray its edges, the novelty of this enterprise for the group is evident and they often look ill at ease with it.
Nattino's slapdash and confusing writing makes it hard to say what Maudie & Jane is about, so I'll begin instead with what happens. The title characters meet at the drug store, where Maudie (the elderly woman) is literally stinking up the place. Jane (the magazine editor) befriends her, even though she is repulsed by Maudie's smell, and the two women soon find themselves back at the latter's dilapidated apartment. Before long, Jane is spending more and more quality time with the widowed and childless Maudie, serving as both best friend and surrogate daughter. When Maudie needs a bath, Jane washes her. When Maudie is sick, Jane takes her to the hospital. You get the idea.
The one question I kept asking, in various ways, was "Why?" Why does Jane befriend Maudie, a woman who initially revolts her, in the first place? What is it about their relationship that causes Jane to reflect, "I want to slow down. I want to learn to enjoy my own rhythms"? Why does Nattino keep dancing around a possible lesbian subtext only to continually shy away from it? Why must both women disrobe and bathe in front of the audience? No answers present themselves.
Reznikov's work also prompts a number of questions. Why is the stage raked? (It doesn't seem to serve a thematic purpose, and looks like its unnecessarily difficult for the 80-plus-year-old Judith Malina—who plays Maudie—to navigate.) Why does the direction feel like it lacks any sense of tempo or tension, much like the script itself? Again, answers are hard to come by.
Unfortunately, the performances don't help much, either. Pat Russell is pleasantly nondescript as Jane, which I mean as a compliment. She doesn't bring any discernible personality to the role, but she fares better than her co-star. As Maudie, the legendary Malina is shockingly incomprehensible. Her voice and speech are atrocious: she slurs or swallows her words and varies her volume level so wildly that I'm pretty sure a good portion of the play is lost right there. Malina's other acting choices—which include a wide array of physical gesticulations and an occasional shout—fail to illuminate both her role and the story. Hers is a truly puzzling performance.
It's always admirable to see any company try something a little different, even if it doesn't always work. The degree to which Maudie & Jane fails, however, is a little disturbing. All of the artists involved manage to look inept, even though it's a well-known fact that they aren't. The bottom line, though, is that this production doesn't show The Living Theatre at its best. I suggest waiting until the next time around to catch them.