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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
THE COUNTRY GIRL
at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

MORE THAN JUST A FAILED ACTOR
By MATT WINDMAN

  Cast of The Country Girl/photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe

We all cheered two years ago when Awake and Sing, Clifford Odets' leftist drama about a Jewish family in the Depression, received a long overdue Broadway revival. Odets' Golden Boy will be revived in the next two years, and some theater company is bound to bring back his agitprop masterpiece Waiting for Lefty.

But what of his much ignored 1950 backstage melodrama The Country Girl, which was immortalized in a film version starring Bing Crosby, William Holden and Grace Kelly. Quite frankly, it's a shallow play that's become even mustier in the 58 years since it premiered. Frank Rich once described it as the top of the second-rate, but even that sounds generous.

The melodrama lives on because it offers three flashy roles: Frank Elgin, a famed actor turned alcoholic who is so frustrated by his inability to memorize his lines that he contemplates suicide Georgie Elgin, Frank's young, supportive wife and Bernie Dodd, a headstrong director, who believes he can rescue Frank's career.

What turns this otherwise unnecessary revival into an event is that it marks Morgan Freeman's long-awaited return to the stage. He last appeared on Broadway in The Gospel at Colonus and off-Broadway in The Taming of the Shrew. And according to his most recent press interviews, he is unlikely to return again anytime soon.

Rumors abounded during previews that director Mike Nichols had cut too many scenes and that Freeman could not remember his lines. We are glad to report that the text of the play is now more or less intact and that Freeman appeared to know it. But that's probably the nicest thing we can say...

To much surprise, Freeman delivers a one dimensional performance that is plainly inferior to his best film work. He captures only the character's meek, forlorn nature and ignores the other complexities. He never connects with Frances McDormand, who is also stiff but at least manages to show some nuance as his compassionate long-suffering wife. Most successful is probably Peter Gallagher, who dives into his tough guy director role with commitment and good humor.

This is more or less an undercooked production of an antiquated, nonessential potboiler. We can all do better.

 


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