Volume II, Issue II Summer 2003

'Talking Heads' reveals illusion and loneliness

Review by Lucy Komisar

Talking Heads
Written by Alan Bennett

Directed by Michael Engler

Minetta Lane Theatre
18 Minetta Lane
New York
Through September 7


There are seven plays in these two evenings of monologues by Alan Bennett, and I saw only three of them, but I'd wager a guess that the drift is similar. The three I saw – "Her Big Chance," "A Chip in the Sugar" and "Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet" – are the epitome of dry eccentric British humor, all with an element of the shaggy dog story. They are presented with such aplomb that you'd feel churlish to suggest that there's something definitely odd about the protagonists. The stories are amusing to start, then feel belabored, and are barely saved by the superb acting of the performers.

The characters' accents place them all in Bennett's home town of Leeds in the Midlands. In "Her Big Chance," Leslie (Valerie Mahaffey), a not-very-bright actress pulling closed a fuchsia dressing gown, tells how she got to star in a movie. It turns out to be a soft-porn epic, she wasn't much more than an extra, and in the course of the narrative, we learn that she shot some men with a harpoon gun, agreed to take off her clothes, consorted with a drug trafficker – indeed, it's a shaggy dog thriller.

Talking Heads "A Chip in the Sugar," performed by Daniel Davis, is a long, drawn-out tale of how Graham, 52, deals with the exploits of his mother, 72, with whom he shares a flat. She decides to run off with a fellow she once knew who she meets by chance in the park. She is thrilled at the prospect, but it would have upturned Graham's domestic arrangement, disturbing him no end, until he learns the man is not quite what he seems.

The title character of "Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet," offers a tour de force role for Lynn Redgrave, whose veins appear to run with sang froid. Miss Fozzard is middle-aged, unmarried and caring for a brother who has had a stroke. As her chiropodist has left town, she seeks out another whose interest in feet is, to say the least, unusual: he gets off on her walking on his back. It turns out that Miss Fozzard finds the encounters pretty enjoyable, too. As Redgrave tells the tale, the corners of her mouth pull down in quirky fashion in a face so fluidly expressive, it seems almost rubbery.

Bennett's characters are eccentrics all, and rather lonely each in their way. The problem is the thin line between the serious appreciation – for example, the isolation Graham and Miss Fozzard feel living with relatives they have to care for but hardly communicate with – and the tedium of the too-long-drawn-out telling.

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