The Theatreguide.London Review
Wyndham's Theatre Summer 2019
quiet little play as so low-key and gossamer as to barely be there.
It tells the story of a man so self-effacing and personality-less as
to barely be there.
And, despite some
excellent acting and a few
decent laughs, the play's effect on you is likely to be just as
fleeting and minimal.
Matthew Broderick plays
a middle-aged failed
scientist reduced to lecturing on elementary astronomy to drop-in
students at New York's planetarium.
He has a
(Elizabeth McGovern, getting co-star billing for what is little more
than a walk-on role) he hardly speaks to, an offstage teenage son he
connects to even less, but somehow a pretty nice suburban home.
not a particularly good teacher, unable to do much with students
ranging from the comically ignorant ('Is Mars a moon?') to the
comically presumptuous ('I've graded you as a teacher in these
And then, improbably, he
begins an affair with a
Puerto Rican single mother training to be a nurse.
Mildly good things
happen to him, very bad things happen to her, and then life goes on,
with the man about as untouched and unchanged by his adventures as
you are likely to be by the play.
Oh, and there's a
subplot of sorts
about an old man in hospital, being tended by the student nurse, and
his strained relations with his daughter – and I must confess that
I have no idea what those scenes are doing in this play, except
perhaps to provide perspective for the triviality of the central
Matthew Broderick is an
actor of immense personal
charm, but he and director Sam Yates have chosen to completely
suppress his personality in a performance of wooden and affect-less
emptiness. The man happy, the man sad, the man lecturing, the man in
love are all equally robotic and distanced from himself and
everything around him.
It is, I suppose, a
achievement, but it would seem more appropriate to a play by Pinter
or Beckett than to what seems to want to be a quirky rom-com, a kind
of gentle (and gentile) Woody Allen-ish slice of life in New York
Far more interesting and
attractive is the performance of
newcomer Rosalind Eleazar as the woman who goes into the love affair
with a New Yorker's – even a working-class New Yorker's –
casualness and limited expectations but a greater capacity for fully
valuing and enjoying it than Broderick's character ever has.
the worst thing in the world happens to her we not only believe and
feel her experience fully, but judge her lover to his detriment by
the gap between her capacity for emotion and his.
McGovern there is little to say. She is effective in one strong scene
near the end that shows there is more to her character than the
just-passing-through stereotype she was up to then.
The play is set
in 1997 when New York's landmark Hayden Planetarium was demolished
and replaced, and the single longest and most passionate speech in
the play comes at the very end, as Matthew Broderick's character
muses on what an adventure it was for a child to discover science in
those beautiful surroundings.
Of course it has very little to do with the rest of the play. But it's nice.
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