Harris' 'Pink Lady' performance a treat for San Diego audiences
Published October 2007
By Carol Davis
Oscar and the Pink Lady
By Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt
Directed by Frank Dunlop
Cassius Carter Centre Stage
The Old Globe
1363 Old Globe Way
Through Nov. 4
Make no mistake about it, when you are in the company of Rosemary Harris, you feel as though you are in the company of well, royalty. Seriously, Ms. Harris is what my mother would call "a real lady." She's charismatic, self-assured, charming, unassuming and quite lovely. Added to this bit of information, she's at The Old Globe in a one-woman show, Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt's "Oscar and the Pink Lady", currently being mounted in the Cassius Carter Centre Stage through Nov. 4. If you think that being on the stage solo for two hours, entering and exiting by way of a short flight of stairs which are, in themselves, hazardous (if you're not holding onto the little guard rail), remembering Lord knows how many lines, and are at the higher end of seventy is easy, just try it. She might not descend directly from royalty, but she surely is a close runner-up.
Ms. Harris, a Tony and Emmy Award winner has appeared in, of all things, "The Royal Family," "A Delicate Balance," "A Streetcar Named Desire" and "Lion in Winter", for which she won the Tony. Most recently, she can be recognized as Peter Parker's, aka Spider-Man's, compassionate aunt in the film series of the same name. Her stage, film and TV credits go on, but one need not look further than the Carter Theatre and for that, we're fortunate to have her here in our fair city. I just wish that Schmitt's piece was more cogent. It's not that it's not interesting; it's just redundant and grows tiresome even with the talented Harris at the helm.
Along with director Frank Dunlop and on Michel Vaughn Sims' hospital-like room with two beds, a crib, two chairs and a box filled with Oscar's belongings, Ms. Harris begins her story of Oscar. Oscar, it seems, has recently died of leukemia and Ms. Harris, whom he called Granny Pink, was the Pink Lady volunteer who came every day and took him under her wing. After all of Oscar's belongings are carefully placed in the large box she carried down the stairs to the stage, she opens up a little dresser and takes out a flat box with the words "To God" on the top lid. And thus begins the tale, the journey, the passing of time (if you will) of young Oscar, too tempered for his ten years, and having to face his all-too-soon death with little understanding of what that meant. Granny Pink is his mentor, surrogate mother and moral guide.
Harris' Granny is about as believable as can be under the circumstances. She starts off slowly by telling us a little about Oscar and how difficult he can be. How his bone graft was not successful, his relationships with the other children in the hospital. She shares with him her wrestling stories. She used to be a lady wrestler and her stories are quite colorful, to say the least. She encourages him to write letters to God. He questions, she pushes. She persuades him to ask God for one thing each day, something spiritual, or enlightening. His letters indicate that he does.
He gives in bit by bit; she takes note of his adventures with his hospital friends. She listens and understands about his anger with his family, who have all but deserted him because they don't know how to deal with him. She tells him not to be afraid of the unknown; he fantasizes and goes through a life cycle from ten to twenty to eventually ninety in the nine days leading up to his last. She takes him to visit the hospital chapel. She talks to him about making peace with his parents and friends. Eventually, by play's end, he's a convert, she's rueful and her mission or lesson so to speak, is complete.
Don't get me wrong. I don't mean to sound blasÃ© about it. I'm sensitive, understanding and even compassionate about the story line. Ms. Harris is a pro. She weaves through the ups and downs of it with the agility of a prizefighter. The script just leaves too much to be desired. It's too long. Whatever the playwright had to say could have been said in ninety or fewer minutes. Most importantly, Oscar is a little boy of ten with the insight and vocabulary of an adult. Cute, precocious? Maybe. Funny and lighthearted? Sometimes. Presumptuous? Yes! Credible? No.
I encourage you to see for yourselves and make your own judgments. You won't be disappointed in Ms. Harris' performance.
See you at the theater.