Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Simon Callow Stars in Tuesdays at Tesco's

Simon Cowell in TUESDAYS AT TESCO'S.  Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Even as a child, Paul knew that he really was a girl “inside” (notwithstanding the external physical evidence to the contrary) and, as an adult, he rectified the mismatch by becoming Pauline, a transsexual woman.  Andrew, his selfish and cantankerous father, never could come to terms with Pauline’s transition to womanhood and, despite his daughter’s most valiant efforts at establishing at least some semblance of a loving relationship between the two following the death of her mother, it was all to no avail.  Although she visited her father every Tuesday, washing and ironing his clothes, cleaning his house, preparing his meals for the following week, and accompanying him to Tesco’s (the UK’s leading supermarket) to do the week’s shopping (all in her mother’s stead now that she was gone), Andrew persisted in rejecting and belittling his “domestic goddess,” consistently addressing her as Paul rather than Pauline and mocking everything from her facial stubble to her broad shoulders.

Simon Callow is an extraordinarily talented British actor, justifiably acclaimed for his past solo performances, and it is he who brings Pauline to life on the stage in Tuesdays at Tesco’s, now enjoying its US premiere at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan as part of the theater’s annual Brits Off Broadway program.  Written by Emmanuel Barley, the play was originally produced in France as Le Mardi a Monoprix, before being translated into English and adapted for the British stage by Michael Hurt and Sarah Vermande in 2011.  It debuted that year at the Edinburgh Festival before coming to America.

To be sure, there is no denying Mr. Callow’s considerable talent and there are moments in which his solo rendition of Pauline’s plight is evocatively moving.  But his comical galumphing about the stage in high heels and graceless dancing, intended perhaps to merely break up the monotony of a less than memorable soliloquy, comes across as less of a paean to femininity than as a mockery of it.

Mr. Callow shares the stage with Conor Mitchell, a pianist who stands off in a corner, plinking from time to time on his instrument but mostly looking bored.  His performance does nothing to enrich the play, only distracting from it and, for the life of me, I have no idea why he’s there at all.  (This is not meant as a criticism of Mr. Mitchell’s musical ability.  Indeed, in light of his extensive resume, I’d imagine that he is quite talented.  But based on the minor role he’s been given to play in this production, there’s just no way to tell.)

The play begins as a tragic-comedy and concludes as a full-fledged tragedy.  But the greater tragedy is the waste of Mr. Callow’s enormous talent on such a trivial enterprise.

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