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Primary Stages Presents "Chasing Manet" with Jane Alexander
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Primary Stages Presents "Chasing Manet" with Jane Alexander

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Primary Stages Presents:
Chasing Manet

By Tina Howe
Directed by Michael Wilson
At
Primary Stages
www.primarystages.com
at
59E59 Theaters
www.59E59.org
59 East 59th Street
NY, NY
212.753.5959

With:
Jane Alexander, Lynn Cohen
Vanessa Aspillaga, Jack Gilpin
Julie Halston, David Margulies,
Robert Christopher Riley

Lighting Design: Howell Binkley
Sets Design: Tony Straiges
Costume Design: David C. Woolard
Original Music and Sound Design: John Gromada
Wig & Hair Design: Mark Adam Rampmeyer
Associate Director: Maxwell Williams
Production Stage Manager: Susie Cordon
Casting: Stephanie Klapper Casting
Production Supervisor: PRF Productions
Director of Marketing: Shanta Mali
General Manager: Reuben Saunders
Associate Artistic Director: Michelle Bossy
Press: O&M Co.


Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 9, 2009


It’s a cruel fate for a renowned modernist artist, a Boston relative of John Singer Sargent, to be blind and confined to a Bronx nursing home, called Mount Airy. Catherine Sargent (Jane Alexander), tall, with flowing white locks, lies on her bed, faces the wall, and screams, “Out! Out! I want out!”. Her Columbia professor son, Royal Lowell (Jack Gilpin), moved his mother closer to his apartment, but he rarely visits. When he does, he recites a bit of Yeats and leaves, with little connection or worthwhile conversation. Catherine is now bereft of all semblance of her former life, except for a print of “Le déjeuner sur l’herbe” (1862-63), painted by a youthful Manet, a work of art considered daring and scandalous at the time. Catherine draws sustenance from this Parisian icon and dreams of returning to Paris by the QE2.

Tina Howe has painted a stage image of aging that’s real and revealing. I personally remember visiting relatives in homes such as this and remembering the palpable isolation and desperation of the residents. Ms. Howe does a service to her audience to gently educate, through humor (yes, there is humor) and outsized characterization, how inherent intelligence and imagination can be drugged and destroyed in such clinical environments. A few characters (Vanessa Aspillaga, Jack Gilpin, Julie Halston, David Margulies, and Rob Riley) switch in and out of costumes and wigs to become visiting relatives, nursing attendants, therapists, patients, and more. Some of the skits are campy-funny, and some are poignant and impassioned, especially those between Catherine and Royal, as well as a therapy session skit, with Maurice (David Margulies) morphing from senility to soliloquy, about one of his architectural excursions. Most poignant was that burst of mental acuity, begging to be unleashed.

Catherine’s partner in crime, her new roommate, Rennie (Lynn Cohen), is Alzheimer’s afflicted, but somehow her medicine is visible and available, for serendipitous escapes. Rennie, unlike Catherine, has many warm, loving visitors, and her daughter, played by Julie Halston, takes her to frequent elegant lunches. Rennie gets dressed up and wheeled out, while Catherine remains on the bed. Another poignant scene involves Rennie’s lunch invitation to Catherine, who was slow to trust and befriend Rennie, but Catherine quickly sees the value of their bond, perhaps more than she admits. Jane Alexander is a formidable, renowned, and classy actor, one who rivets the eye. Lynn Cohen is the perfect counterpart, friendly, forgiving, forgetful, and fun. Catherine has stored a secret bank account, and her eyes literally sparkle, when she calls the QE2. She’s a renowned artist, who was honored with a Hirshhorn retrospective, and her name opens doors, even from her spartan bed. She sits inside Tony Straiges’ set of overhead wheelchairs, beige walls, and fragile roommate, and secures her “out”. The final scene is exuberant and transporting. Michael Wilson has directed Ms. Howe’s new work with warmth, pathos, and much good humor. At no point are characters mined for inappropriate laughs. Rather, they are celebrated for their feistiness, nature, and courage. Kudos to Tina Howe, Michael Wilson, Jane Alexander, and Lynn Cohen.



Jane Alexander as Catherine
in Tina Howe's "Chasing Manet."
Courtesy of James Leynse.



(L to R) Robert Christopher Riley, Julie Halston,
Lynn Cohen, David Margulies, Vanessa Aspillaga,
Jack Gilpin in Tina Howe's "Chasing Manet."
Courtesy of James Leynse



Lynn Cohen as Rennie
Jane Alexander as Catherine
in Tina Howe's "Chasing Manet."
Courtesy of James Leynse.





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For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at zlokower@bestweb.net