Review by Polly Wittenberg
Written by: Terrence McNally.
Directed by: Michael Morris.
Cast: Nathan Lane, Marian Seldes, Michael Countryman, Alison Fraser , Darren Pettie, R.E. Rodgers and Miriam Shor.
Synopsis: A couple's love affair with the theatre is tested as the children's theatre they run in upstate New York expands and they find themselves forced to examine how far that love will take them.
Polly Wittenberg's Review.
Terence McNally’s omnipresent love for the theater saturates his latest offering now at the Primary Stages. Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams, is a play with a past about a theater with a past and a future.
Dedication was originally supposed to make its New York debut at the opening of the Manhattan Theater Club’s refurbished Biltmore Theater two years ago. That didn’t happen and it had its premiere last summer at the Nikos Stage in Williamstown, MA, just before that theater closed for renovations. Now this tale of the reclaiming of a decrepit old New England stage is finally getting its New York premiere in a smaller but entirely new theater (59E59), albeit one that is consciously dressed down for the occasion.
Superficially, Dedication is the story of the efforts of loveable Lou Nuncle (Nathan Lane) and his “wife” Jessie (Alison Fraser), an odd couple of children’s theater producers, to claim an about-to-be-demolished performance space by persuading Annabelle Willard (Marian Seldes), its haughty owner who is dying of cancer, to give it to them. Much of the plot, however, is really an excuse for the cast to recount lots of wonderful and hoary old theatrical anecdotes and jokes. There’s a Mary Todd Lincoln story, Cyrano and Hedda jokes, quasi-scenes from Merchant and Othello, more Shakespeare-bashing and, of course, plenty of stuff from fairy tales. It’s more than a bit of fun inside a fairly dramatic piece about the price one might be willing to pay to get what he or she wants. Bravo to McNally for creating such an entertaining concoction.
And more “bravos” to the first-rate cast. Lane is the big draw, of course. And he’s warm and engaging throughout. It’s also good to have Fraser’s steady maternal presence back on the boards after a long absence. As her daughter Ida, Miriam Shor plays a punk-rocker with a heart and is a dead-ringer for Courtney Love. And Darren Pettie is fine as Ida’s leather- and stud-clad Shakespeare-spouting boyfriend. So too are Michael Countryman and R.E. Rodgers.
The undisputed star of this show, however, is Seldes. My bet is that McNally tailored the role of Annabelle to her splendiferous talents and quirks. No other American actress I can think of could carry off the several remarkable transformations she accomplishes in a short play with such humor and aplomb. Kudos also to director Michael Morris for putting it all together and to set designer Narelle Sissons for making it look so good.
Lane is leaving the cast on September 4 to join another odd couple on Broadway. Good as he is, he can be replaced. Not so Miss Seldes. Go and enjoy.
What the critics had to say.....
BEN BRANTLEY of the NEW YORK TIMES says “And while Mr. Lane gives a credible and affecting performance as a small-town seat-of-the-pants director, even he is no match for Ms. Seldes's wicked incarnation of the will to die.”
HOWARD KISSEL of NEW YORK DAILY NEWS says "Only the most dedicated will have the stamina to sit through this unwieldy play to see a wonderful performance by Marian Seldes and a nicely subdued one by Nathan Lane."
CLIVE BARNES of NEW YORK POST says "Despite the sterling efforts of its performers, "Dedication" is far from "the stuff of dreams." "
MICHAEL SOMMERS of the STAR-LEDGER says "Brilliant acting by Marian Seldes and Nathan Lane -- superb artists at their salient best -- illuminates "Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams," which otherwise proves to be a disappointingly murky occasion. "
LINDA WINER of NEWSDAY says " 'Dedication, or the Stuff of Dreams' is Terrence McNally's love letter to the theater. How dispiriting that this serious comedy is hard to endure, much less love."
JACQUES LE SOURD of JOURNAL NEWS says "Yes, the writing may be a bit underdeveloped in spots, and one can't help thinking the play might have benefitted from a couple of more turns through McNally's typewriter (or computer) before it was fully staged. But this doesn't matter: We have Lane. We have Seldes. It is, after all, a McNally play. And it is a comedy set in an atmospheric old theater. As a playgoer, can you really be greedier than that?"
MICHAEL KUCHWARA of the ASSOCIATED PRESS says "Until her appearance (Marian Seldes) well into Act 1, "Dedication" dawdles, dramatically speaking. When the lady finally shows up, the play snaps into focus but then retreats into fuzziness when she goes offstage."
LARRY WORTH of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER says "All that's really illuminated is the decline of playwright Terrence McNally, and Nathan Lane's limits as an actor."