Leaving a Doll’s House

The Madrid is difficult to write about.  It is not good, but it is not bad, either.  It is not interesting, but it is not boring.  It seems to simply exist and it is difficult to imagine anyone in the cast and crew feeling passionately about Liz Flahive’s play or anyone in their audience either loving or hating it.  It is inoffensive, which sometimes can be worse than terrible.

Exit Martha (Edie Falco), a wife, mother, and Kindergarten teacher who is sick of “the endlessness” and who disappears one day, only telling her daughter, Sarah (Phoebe Strole), on the phone, “I’m leaving now.”  This leaves Sarah to sort out her post-college life while taking care of her father, Michael (John Ellison Conlee), fending off help from her overeager neighbor, Becca (Heidi Schrek), and balancing a celibate but precarious relationship with Becca’s husband, Danny (Christopher Evan Welch), who has a “bad habit” when it comes to girls her age.

Ms. Falco, who deserves a better play, is cool and distant as Martha, as if she had no awareness of the consequences of her actions; it is the kind of behavior we might expect from someone who has recently experienced a brain injury, from a Phineas Gage.  She smiles evenly as Sarah begs her to return home, swinging back beers and gossiping about her sex life as she would to a girlfriend.  It is an extremely controlled and affecting performance in an otherwise lukewarm play.  Ms. Schrek is perhaps not as frenetic as she should be (“Becca never wanted to be away from [her children] in case they stopped breathing”), but Mr. Conlee and Mr. Welch turn in warm if uneventful performances.

Ultimately, The Madrid is stale and vaporous—it never seems concerned with complicating its characters, with elevating them above movie of the week personalities.  Ms. Flahive is a writer for Nurse Jackie, which is probably how Ms. Falco got stuck in this play.  Next time she should cut her television ties and get ahold of a chewier text.

The Madrid runs through May 5th at the New York City Center Stage I.  131 W. 55th Street  New York, NY.  2 hours 15 minutes.  One intermission.

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Aaron Botwick

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