Top Girls

By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Rebecca Kendall
Woman Seeking...Theater Company
The Kraine Theater
85 East 4th St. (841-0326)
Equity showcase (closes June 16)
Review by Ken Jaworowski

Can a play become more relevant over time? In the case of Top Girls, the answer is yes. Caryl Churchill's story of British women and their career choices has indeed gained power since it premiered 20 years ago, and poses questions that are as pertinent in the days of Blair and George W. as they were in the time of Thatcher and Reagan.

In the play, Marlene has won a promotion at her job at an employment agency. She is a corporate maven, and routinely encourages other women to subjugate their humanity to their careers. Marlene's accomplishments haven't come without a price -- 16 years earlier she gave up her child, who now has come to visit her. All of this follows an audacious, surreal opening scene in which Marlene celebrates her promotion at a dinner attended by five legendary historical women. Though inventive and funny, the scene also shows how their lives mirrored Marlene's -- they too sacrificed much in their quests for success.

Although some irksome details occasionally drew attention from the production, Women Seeking... Theater Company fashioned a steadfastly engaging play. Churchill's dialogue, filled with interruptions and overlapping speeches, is a recipe for disaster for an unprepared cast. These actresses, however, handled the script with confidence and showed an admirable gift for timing.

As Marlene, Annie McGovern skillfully portrayed a woman who cannot quite conceal her regrets behind her power suits and fashionable politics. Dorothy Abrahams, as Marlene's daughter, Angie, embodied the confused, moody young girl. Her performance gave the play its quiet, tender soul. The other seven actresses, each playing multiple roles, were accomplished, particularly Kelli Lynn Harrison as Angie's young friend, Kit.

Although the acting was praiseworthy, some production choices were puzzling. A scrap of plain white paper that substituted for a treasured postcard, as well as a few items of clothing that weren’t in fashion during the play's setting in the early 1980s, were blemishes on Rebecca Kendall's otherwise clean directorial judgments. Also, strangely absent from the final scene were references to Marlene's abortions. Whether cut from the script at the director's instruction or unintentionally dropped by the actresses, such an omission weakened what is intended to be an all-out confrontation.

Despite these few slips, Women Seeking... delivered an entertaining and thought-provoking play. The wide sweep of the story remained intact, and the production conveyed both strength and sensitivity. This is the right time to revive Top Girls, and this is the right company to do it.

(Also featuring: Margot Avery, Rebecca Longworth, Kathleen Bishop, Elizabeth Bunnell, Chelsea Silverman, Ann Parker.)

Box Score:

Writing: 2
Directing: 1
Acting: 2
Sets: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2002 Ken Jaworowski