Magazine article The Spectator

Lecture on Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Lecture on Life

Article excerpt

Theatre 1

Rose (National)

The Game of Love and Chance (Barbican)

High Life (Bush)

Lecture on life

Sheridan Morley

Accustomed as we now are to the Alan Bennett monologues for stage and television, which usually offer an entire life in fewer than 40 minutes, it is something of a shock to find Martin Sherman's new solo play Rose (on the Cottesloe stage of the National) running at close on two and a half hours. In the title role and her London stage debut, the great American actress Olympia Dukakis is seldom less than mesmerising, but she is curiously cast; a star who seems to have come out of Greece by way of the United States, she is playing an octogenarian Jewish widow sitting shiva for an Arab girl killed by one of her own Israeli descendants.

As soon becomes clear, she is nothing less than the Wandering Jew, a woman whose whole lifetime has been the history of the Jewish experience in this century, from the pogroms of Russia through the Warsaw ghettos of the second world war to hippy life in San Francisco and eventual retirement to a Miami hotel and an irritable old age. Sherman, whose best play Bent was the story of gays under Hitler, seldom takes an easy or obvious route back into the history of his own people, and we are not here therefore expecting or dealing with the more familiar territory of Neil Simon or Jackie Mason. Few jokes, no stereotypes, just an infinitely painstaking (and sometimes it has to be said ponderous) attempt to link up the dots across the Jewish map of the millennium now ending, and see how they got from Warsaw to Tel Aviv, from the Holocaust to the Six Day War.

Touching, chilling, overlong and sometimes random, as Sherman seems unable to decide whether to follow the unique path of his one and only Rose or to make her a Jewish Everywoman, this is a monologue which makes vast and perhaps impossible demands on its star, whom Nancy Meckler has directed as if for radio. Sometimes one wishes that the late Molly Picon or Gertrude Berg or any other stalwart of the Yiddish Theatre were alive to take up the challenge; Dukakis is never better than when realising her own family have turned from victims to killers, but the experience seems all too often just outside even her considerable grasp and range of emotion. It is as though she were lecturing rather than playing the story of Rose.

Briefly at the Barbican, but now moving on to Paris and Washington, Jean-Pierre Vincent's chic and chilly production of Marivaux's The Game of Love and Chance got the always-impressive London LIFT festival of foreign theatre off to an impressive start, complete with surtitles for those of us whose academic French turns out to be never quite as good as we fondly trust. …

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