Review of My Name is Lucy Barton, starring Laura Linney, on Broadway

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    January 16, 2020
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    One of the strengths of the quietly affecting My Name is Lucy Barton is that it’s refreshingly free of sentimentality. This moody monologue on Broadway deftly sidesteps power-sapping gooeyness as it tells the story of a writer and the enduring legacy of crushing family dysfunction.

    The play’s other invaluable asset is the exhilarating performance by Laura Linney, whose clear-eyed and straightforward acting style makes her the perfect choice for this stage adaptation of Elizabeth Strout’s bestselling 2016 novel by dramatist Rona Munro.

    Over an unbroken hour-and-a-half, Lucy, who’s made a name and financial success for herself as an author, recalls slices of her past -- in New York City, her home after college, and in rural Illinois, where she grew up amid poverty, isolation and parental abuse.

    She begins her story in 1980 AIDS-ravaged Manhattan. After a routine appendectomy, Lucy is stricken with an infection that leaves her hospitalized for nine weeks. The cause of the illness is a mystery, as is the reason for a surprise five-day visit from her long-estranged mother. While Lucy yearns to hear her mom express love and say something -- anything -- about the terror that her war-scarred father inflicted on her and her siblings, there’s none of that. There’s just small talk and rather mean-spirited gossip about relationship dramas back in Illinois.

    For Lucy, that’s enough. The reunion looms extra-large -- and no wonder why. “Lonely was the first flavor I had tasted in my life, and it was always there,” Lucy says, “hidden inside the crevices of my mouth, reminding me.”

    Lucy’s memories go beyond the hospital as she discusses her husband and their two daughters and flashes back to her troubled childhood. She found comfort in books, which she regarded as friends and sparked her determination to write so others “will not feel so alone.” That would be too earnest and mawkish by half if Lucy also didn't acknowledge her ruthless streak. She needed it to survive the wreckage of her youth and navigate being an author.

    Director Richard Eyre’s staging, seen in 2018 in London, is clean, spare, and briskly paced. A bed, a chair and a window pretty much make up the set by Bob Crowley, whose shapeless outfit for Lucy is in stark contrast to her precise language. Projected images of a beaming Chrysler Building and verdant Illinois cornfields by Luke Halls and tell-tale lighting shifts by Peter Mumford efficiently set each scene, locale and time frame.

    The striking special effect in this Manhattan Theatre Club co-presentation with the London Theatre Company at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre on Broadway is Linney herself, a Tony nominee for The Crucible, Sight Unseen, Time Stands Still and The Little Foxes. She shines Chrysler bright. She’s a master of using stillness, a sidelong glance, an expressive gesture, but her voice stands out most. Lucy speaks with warmth and vigor. Sunshine drains from her mom’s voice, whose Midwest ayec-cent is borderline cartoonish. Still, that vocal exaggeration works. It’s Lucy’s story and she can tell it the way she wants to.

    One quibble: The play runs two minutes too long. The brief final mini-scene that seems to tie everything up in a one-size-fits-all bow feels like a misstep. Life’s not about simple summation. It’s messy and complicated. Just ask Lucy Barton.

    (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

    "The title character of My Name is Lucy Barton, Rona Munro’s crystalline stage adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's 2016 novel, is hardly a woman of mystery. On the contrary, as embodied with middle-American forthrightness by a perfectly cast Laura Linney, in the production that opened Wednesday at the Samuel J. Friedman Theater, Lucy may be the most translucent figure now on a New York stage."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Audiences aren’t showing up at “My Name Is Lucy Barton” for Lucy — they’re coming for Linney. That’s Laura Linney, the venerable actress, who stars in the one-woman play, adapted from Elizabeth Strout’s novel, that opened on Broadway Wednesday night. It’s a skilled performance that employs the actress’s signature move: commanding the stage while remaining genteel and dignified."
    Johnny Oleksinski for New York Post

    "My Name Is Lucy Barton is being produced in association with Penguin Random House Audio, which will release a recording of it early next month. That might be the show’s ideal form. In the 650-seat Friedman Theatre, it feels neither like a novel nor quite like a fully realized play. What it feels like is a live performance of an audiobook."
    Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

    "Adapted by Scottish playwright Rona Munro and directed by Richard Eyre with elegant simplicity and unerring trust in the material, this solo play premiered to great acclaim last summer in London. It arrives on Broadway as an ideal showcase both for the compassionate lucidity of Strout's writing and for Linney's gifts as a performer capable of flipping back and forth between open-hearted tenderness and brittle distance, while almost imperceptibly illuminating the messy terrain of human relationships that separates them."
    David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

    "Laura Linney is in love. Just watch the radiant expression on her face as she wraps her arms around the character of Lucy Barton, a role she played in two separate engagements at the Bridge Theater in London, and is now reprising on Broadway in My Name is Lucy Barton. The feeling is obviously mutual, because the character of Lucy Barton returns the actor’s commitment with a quiet but searing fidelity to her visionary performance. Actors often speak of “inhabiting” a role; here, the devotion feels reciprocal."
    Marilyn Stasio for Variety