BY NAVEEN KUMAR
Edie Falco has more than a knack for playing unusual mothers. From her iconic portrayal of mob matriarch Carmela Soprano, to her title role as a high-functioning addict in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie—she has an exceptional way of bringing nuance to maternal characters who might seem despicable were she any less, well, Edie Falco. She’s on stage giving just such a performance in The Madrid, a new play by Liz Flahive that opened Off Broadway Tuesday at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I.
In its opening scene, Falco’s character Martha, a primary school teacher, holds up students’ drawings of their families and reads aloud their sweet, simple descriptions. One restless little girl pops up in front and asks Martha about her own family: Do you have a little girl? Yes, she answers, but her daughter is grown up and not so little anymore. Martha then offers the girl her seat at the head of the class, and walks out—leaving her classroom, her family, and her life behind.
Flahive’s play follows the impact of Martha’s sudden disappearance on her daughter Sarah (Phoebe Strole) and her husband John (John Ellison Conlee), as well as the curious life Martha chooses for herself—namely, one free of obligation and responsibility. The only moment missing from the opening scene is Martha tearing up a family portrait on her way out the door.
Martha’s friend Becca and her husband Danny (Heidi Schreck and Christopher Evan Welch, both excellent) divert themselves from their own domestic troubles by focusing their attention on the abandoned Sarah and John. Frances Sternhagen is a treat as Martha’s mother Rose, whose wit remains sharp though her mind shows signs of fading. She’s the only one who seems to know her daughter won’t be coming back unless someone goes out and drags her back.
Martha eventually reaches out to her daughter, and the two see each other in secret—it turns out she’s living in a dingy Chicago apartment building ‘the Madrid,’ just a little ways away from her family in the suburbs. Still, her daughter’s demands for an explanation go benignly unanswered—her mom’s not having an affair, or really up to anything in particular, just escaping her life.
Also a writer on Nurse Jackie, Flahive dispenses smooth, snappy dialogue with an easy hand. Director Leigh Silverman, who collaborated on the playwright’s debut From Up Here, also at MTC, has a similarly light touch and excels in drawing out a natural rapport between characters. However, the play’s natural clip often keeps it hovering over the psychological depths it hopes to explore, rather than really delving into them.
The Madrid begins with the mystery of Martha’s departure, laying out expectations for a reveal that never comes. Holding out that promise, the play maintains a certain level of suspense while its central theme—that family ties chafe as well as bind—comes slowly into focus. Ultimately, this doesn’t exactly come as groundbreaking news, and by the end there’s a lingering taste of frustrated hope at having been denied that which was promised. Then again, maybe that’s exactly the point.
Recent theatre features...
Zosia Mamet Opens in ‘Really Really’ Off Broadway:REVIEW
Fault Line Theatre’s ‘From White Plains’ Opens Off-Broadway: REVIEW
Tectonic Theatre Project Presents 'The Laramie Project Cycle' At BAM: REVIEW
Ethan Hawke Opens in ‘Clive’ Off Broadway: REVIEW
Martin Moran's 'All The Rage' Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)