Monday, April 21, 2008

Little Flower Of East Orange

photo: Monique Carboni

As Therese, an ailing, wheelchair-confined widow whose determination to not be a burden on her grown children is either saintly selflessness or passive-aggressive martyrdom, Ellen Burstyn is unfussy and direct: she achieves her effects so simply that you don't see any "acting". This is an extraordinary performance that should be getting more attention than it is. It's at the center of Stephen Adly Guirgis' engrossing but somewhat messy new play which has much in it that is raw and intimate: I don't know anything about the playwright's personal history but the scenes he's written between Therese and her son (an intense, compelling Michael Shannon) have a seering honesty that seems to have come from anguished searching. The authenticity of these scenes is more than enough to recommend the play, despite its unruly, humor-spiked first act. Also excellent: Elizabeth Canavan, playing Therese's daughter whose "could fall to pieces at any moment" exterior disguises a solid inner strength.

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