In Sally’s eyes, as played by Imelda Staunton in the 2017 National Theatre revival of James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s musical Follies directed by Dominick Cooke, you can see madness, pain, a dream slipping through her fingers, curdling into nightmare. It’s Sally’s folly in the back part of the show, the ghosts of the past not so much stalking her, her pathetic and unfaithful husband Buddy, her former best friend Phyllis, and the object of her desire Ben, so much as creating a phantasmagoric vaudevillian performance space which forces them to confront their ills. This is “Loveland”, as the hoofers tell us, draped in idyllic, too perfect to be true baby blue lighting, silky curtains, and costumes that uncannily resurrect the past. It’s so much sadder than being deranged because reality is just at the edges.
It seems significant that Sally’s number, quiet and rumbling compared to the vivacious pastiches of everyone else’s, including their former selves, is called a “torch song”. Minimalist where the others’ performances are maximalist, she sits by a vanity, her nightgown, her skin, her hair milky and shimmering in a way it hasn’t since she was a showgirl. She’s starlight, but she’s dying. A flame that’s burned eternal, the blue at its base wavering in the wind but still alight. Imelda Staunton’s rendition of “Losing My Mind” simmers at first until she douses herself in kerosene, her continued, desperate and mad pining for Ben, even when he’s once again spurned her, the ultimate kind of self-immolation.
In two different plays, adapted from two different films, and by two different directors (one Belgian and one French), two women—“of a certain age,” someone, more likely than not a man, might write colloquially, garden variety sexism dotting the fibrous page—look into the mirror and see their unsavory fates, and the loss of what was once so promising, even if under a particular paradigm. They’re two actresses playing actresses in play adaptations of films about plays, and theatre, and performance, and all of that baggage. One actress, Margo Channing (Gillian Anderson), reacts to her growing obsolescence with venomous wit, peppered in with drunken desperation. The other, Myrtle Gordon (Gena Rowlands) responds with a sort of actorly paralysis, like the yips, and also with sloshed conduct. And as two live feeds amplify and project the frustration and neuroses these women are experiencing, men loom in the background, flattening it all for the sake of their own thrill.
It’s fairly interesting that, at least in New York, that the international broadcast of the National Theatre’s production of All About Eve, directed and adapted by Ivo van Hove, and the United States premiere of the stage adaptation of Opening Night, directed and adapted by Cyril Teste, should “run” in such close proximity to one another, mere weeks apart. They’re effectively very similar texts, with equally iconoclastic leading roles for women, and presented in not dissimilar, but extremely disheartening ways. It could be argued that the films from which these plays are adapted are in dialogue with one another, and, in a way, so are the adaptations themselves, though I would really designate it as a pompous shouting match that grates on the ear than a conversation. Read the rest of this entry »