Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Rose is a Rose is a Rose Mary Woods

Catherine and I went last night to the closing night of our friend Susan Bernfield's Stretch (a Fantasia). Not that my opinion here would have helped all that much with ticket sales (the reviews I read were good), but I'm still sorry that I didn't have a chance to see this New Georges production earlier in the run. I thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it: the script was funny and smart, the directing by Emma Griffin was strong, and Kristin Griffith gave an outstanding performance as Nixon's personal secretary, Rose Mary Woods. 

The play shifts rapidly and with great ease between Woods as a young and vibrant woman, the older Woods in an Ohio nursing home during the 2004 election shortly before her death, and a series of elegiac dreams in which she free-associates alternate paths her life might have taken. In each of these realities, Woods remains fiercely loyal to her boss and discretely indiscrete, even when addressing the audience directly—she hints at, but never admits to, the truths behind secrets she took to her grave.

What I most enjoyed about Susan's writing here is that while I know that she disagrees with Woods' political beliefs, she shows a respect (grudging, I'm sure, although that isn't evident) for Woods' personal loyalty and pride in her service. And it's hard not to admire Rose Woods a little—we know so much about the minutiae of the Nixon administration from countless confessional books over the last three decades, with not a word of it contributed by her. Stretch is not about a secretary who sacrificed herself for a boss who didn't deserve it; it's about a talented woman who, with another president and in another time, might have been the Chief of Staff or held a cabinet post.

I also have to commend Susan for all the hard work that has gone into this play. This is the third incarnation of Stretch that Catherine and I have seen: the first was a workshop that I remember as being a monologue (but I could be misremembering); the second was in Soho Think Tank's Ice Factory last year. With each incarnation, the play has really grown and sharpened. Ralph said after seeing it during the first week (he was a good boy!) that this could be the poster play for a successful development process. That's not to say that a lot of scripts aren't sucked into a black hole of play development (and I'll admit that Susan, Ralph and I have the advantage of being artistic directors of the companies presenting our work). But I think the process is less the problem than many of the people who employ it (or at least how they employ it).

No comments: