nytheatre.com review by Terri Galvin
Oh, the unending quest for that sacred
holy grail, the "audition monologue"—that discrete, self-contained
distillation of all salient dramatic virtues. A wide spectrum of
emotional range, a vivid, slightly off-kilter (yet sympathetic)
character proceeding solo through a profound, albeit abbreviated,
psychic journey—ah, 'tis a consummation devoutly to be wished! Take
comfort, thespians: in Maria Gabriele's Graceful Living, your
quixotic pursuit may well have stumbled upon its elusive ideal. What's
not entirely certain, however, is whether the audience has stumbled upon
a fully realized play.
August 15, 2002
Winsomely droll and unsettling by turns, Graceful Living depicts brief, balefully comic glimpses into the aching existence of three frustrated housewives during one portentous July afternoon. Neighbors in the Lively Meadows apartment complex, they seem provoked more by circumstance than by friendship into their near-hysterical harangues of unreciprocated, and oddly unanswered, personal revelations. Eventually, however, through searing, if at times clumsy, chunks of exposition, the extent of their tragic connection unfolds, and each woman's discourse transcends its poignant isolation into a common—but pointedly not shared—abyss of grief. With the barest of sets, costumes, and lighting, the bulk of the theatrical burden is placed upon the cast, all of whom rise to the occasion admirably, particularly Kim Donovan whose brusque, purse-lipped Henrietta projects the controlled, ironic self-deprecation that all too often precludes actual self-awareness. Director Sarah Elkashef has skillfully navigated the varying terrain of each monologue's tonal shifts, but her staging can be uneven, and, in the final scene, downright illogical.
The talent onstage notwithstanding, without dynamic character interaction or significant narrative arc, Graceful Living remains a work in progress. Gabriele's material displays all the necessary prerequisites for substantive drama, but these elements, in and of themselves, are regrettably not sufficient to constitute a well constructed play. She owes it to these promising, idiosyncratic characters to develop this piece to higher levels of depth and structure. If in successive rewrites, Graceful Living ultimately actualizes the potential so richly, if latently, exhibited here, this reviewer, for one, would be eager to visit the ladies of Lively Meadows again.