Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Dame Maggie's Heavenly Allure as the Angel at Death's Door

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Dame Maggie's Heavenly Allure as the Angel at Death's Door

Article excerpt


FIRST NIGHT The Lady From Dubuque uUuUuU..


HOW IT mystifies and irritates, disturbs and affects, but leaves you in the dark - provoked and unsatisfied! This resurrected dance of death drama from Edward Albee's down-in-the-doldrums phase in the Eighties raises questions about illusion, reality and identity, but lasted just 12 performances on Broadway.

It is Dame Maggie Smith's undimmed allure, though, rather than Albee's play that will insure The Lady From Dubuque, in Anthony Page's otherwise poorly acted production, lasts far longer over here. Dame Maggie discards most of her fabulous bag of comic manners and mannerisms to become the mysterious Lady, Elizabeth, radiant with wintry compassion and a flair for mocking disdain. She rediscovers that register of serious, heartfelt emotion she famously employed as a centenarian in Albee's Three Tall Women.

Her role is that of an Angel of Death, or Ministering Angel, who materialises towards the end of one evening in a Connecticut house. The play itself hovers in that tantalising Albee territory, somewhere between American drawing room realism and symbolic fantasy. Hildegard Bechtler's pale-grey walled, modernist set, with a Jasper Johns print hanging proud, ushers in a mood of worldly opulence.

Here Catherine McCormack's thirtyish, pain-wracked Jo is close to cancer's gruelling end-stage, though that has not stopped her and husband, Robert Sella's nervy Sam, from holding a little drinks' party for close friends.

It is during this overextended, aimless socialising that Jo chills the atmosphere by referring to death as if it were a permanent houseguest. She even encourages a bitchy atmosphere of backbiting and insults, chiefly directed against her old friend, Vivienne Benesch's innocuous Lucinda, and Glenn Fleshler's caricature redneck Fred. …

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