Review of Roundabout Theatre Company's Apologia, starring Stockard Channing, at Laura Pels Theatre

  • Our critic's rating:
    October 19, 2018
    Review by:
    David Walters

    Stockard Channing. That’s why Apologia (written in 2009) is currently running here in the US at the Laura Pels Theatre, having just got off the boat from London’s West End. It’s a vehicle to showcase her talents, to show the world that at 74 (go girl!) she’s very viable as a person, as a woman, as an actress, as an artist, possessing depth, appeal, strength and power. She’s why I signed up to review. I’m glad I did.

    Apologia (a formal written defense of one's opinions or conduct, “not to be mistaken for an apology”) is a slightly stiff kitchen-sink drama (and all the other creative choices: directing, set, lighting, costumes, acting choices, followed suit) about the justifiable outrage of badly mothered sons (both played by Hugh Dancy), and a defensive mom justifying the families lives because she really had no other choice. Even though the actors wait for each other to finish before speaking (an applied style to the piece), the characters don’t listen to each other and only complain that no one is listening to them, so there’s never really a conversation.

    This is an old-fashioned play in two acts. The script itself is nice, not thought provoking or provocative or surprising, but nice enough for all the actors to get a chance to each take the stage with pathos and witty rejoinders, monologues divulging wounded psyches, and plenty of space left on stage for those poison-tipped verbal darts.

    The set up for all the family trouble is that mom has just published a memoir of her life (She says defiantly, “My professional life.”) prophetically called "Apologia," that did not include any mention of her sons. The boys are pissed because the exclusion said to them, mom never cared. Mom is defensive, because after dad kidnapped the boys she had to prove to the world and herself that she was viable as an art historian and a political anarchist and thus had no choice. No one takes responsibility for anything and they constantly torture each other, through their own pain, at every turn.

    The obvious elephant in the room, to me anyway, left quietly standing unnoticed on stage that everyone seems to miss, is that the book itself is the excuse to her sons and their absence in it, her apology. (If that doesn’t make sense to you after seeing the play, let me know and we’ll get coffee).

    The last moment in the play, acted with a beautiful guttural rawness by Miss Channing, reflected that thought, absence being the loudest sound in this play.

    (Photos by Joan Marcus)

    What the popular press says...

    "Anyone who has followed Ms. Channing’s four sparkling decades on the New York stage... knows that there’s always more to her interpretations than her fabled way with an epigram. A sharp tongue invariably guards a fragile heart in the Channing portrait gallery, which is what makes her work so affecting. That means that Kristin and Ms. Channing are a perfect match. And her performance in Apologia, a Roundabout Theater Company production directed a bit stiffly by Daniel Aukin, goes some distance in disguising the labored exposition of a work that never quite achieves a natural flow or moves you as much as it should."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Like Wendy Wasserstein’s looser-limbed The Heidi Chronicles, which is also about an art historian, the play means to examine the costs paid by women who open their own doors: “The pioneers. The first ones in uncharted territory. The map-makers. They’re the ones who pay the price so that the rest of us don’t have to,” as someone puts it. But it’s not grounded deeply enough in reality to tell us much about those women—except, perhaps, to remind us of the pleasure we still seem to take in making them cry."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "Channing plays this no-nonsense provocateur to perfection."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "The attraction of these accomplished actors to the material is understandable given the playwright's facility for razor-sharp dialogue, smart humor and crackling confrontations. But for a study of a mother divided between professional passion, political activism and parental failings, the play lacks emotional payoff. It's more stimulating on a scene-by-scene basis than it is satisfying overall."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    External links to full reviews from popular press...

    New York Times - Time Out - The Wrap - Hollywood Reporter