by Liz Flahive
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Starring Edie Falco
Manhattan Theatre Club
at City Center, West 55th Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

The Madrid in Liz Flahive’s play of the same title is the low-rent apartment complex to which kindergarten teacher Martha (Edie Falco) moves when she decides to bail on all of it, good job and loving family, and just—what?—take a sabbatical? Redefine herself? Escape the routine, the rat race, the pressure? Just be? The problem is, Ms. Flahive never really tells us, and Ms. Falco cooperates my playing Martha as an enigma. Even as her 20-year old and somewhat shellshocked daughter Sarah (Phoebe Strobe) visits her and seems to “get to know her” better—Michael, her quietly suffering, good-natured Dad (John Ellison Conlee) thinks she’s seeing a steady, secret boyfriend—the encounters don’t really shed light on her psyche, though we learn a few things about her tastes, memories and cheap-living adaptability. And it’s the kind of withholding that keeps the play from making much of an impression, despite excellent work from the cast (which also includes, among others, the redoubtable Frances Sternhagen as Martha’s mother) and director Leigh Silverman. When I described the play to my significant other, she said something I as a male wouldn’t otherwise dare commit to print: First she asked me: “Was the play written by a woman?” When I answered yes, she said: “Well, of course Martha isn’t going to tell them why she’s run off. She’s the wife, it’s up to her husband to read her mind.” And while I don’t truly ascribe to that as a one-size-fits-all—nor, I hasten do add, does my significant other, who was half-kidding (I hope)—it perfectly encapsulized the feeling of watching the play; rather like being “the accused” in a relationship without the slightest idea what you’ve done wrong, the play asks you to care about something you’ve been given no reason to care about. And thus you have no particular reason to care about the stakes involved for those left behind. Which is the play’s point. I’m guessing. But, you know, I could be wrong…

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