Rich Forum at Stamford Center for the Arts, Stamford
To see the legendary Eartha Kitt on stage once more is indeed an exciting possibility. Never mind that the current show at the Rich Forum, Susan Barsky’s “Expectations,” offers little of what one has come to expect from Miss Kitt (judging from past performances). No challenging or fiery role. No throaty songs or slinky dance numbers. It is Eartha Kitt all the same, and that might be enough for her adoring fans.
The fact is that “Expectations” is a shallow piece, albeit it deals with three contemporary women, products and victims of today’s world. Edith (Kitt) and Doris (Susan Greenhill) are neighbors well along in years. (They are appropriately cast in that respect, since Kitt is now 78, and Greenhill is either that age or manages to give that impression.) At a bus stop, they meet up with Karen, a newly-married and very pregnant young woman (Christine Albright). Over a series of short scenes, the three become deeply involved with each other, sharing their life crises of widowhood, house sales, childbirth, parenting, depressions, marriage breakdowns.
Barsky, who deals with it all in carefully contrived sit-com fashion, gives little shadings to the characterizations. But what she does do well is move quickly from scene to scene, allowing the audience to fill in gaps and figure out changes for themselves. And though the dialogue is pedestrian, it serves well enough. And since the story moves quickly, as written by Barsky and as directed by George Moredock, one is never bored.
Of the three actresses, Kitt (as the caustic realist) is least satisfying and least convincing. It may be that Kitt is not challenged—or possibly over-challenged at this stage of her career. Greenhill, as the ditsy optimist, offers a kind of charm. Fashioning the role much like Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker, she projects a gravelly little-girl voice and a helpless demeanor. Barsky has created a good cop/bad cop scenario, with the two women bickering over trivialities, but staunch allies all the same. And Albright, as the young Karen, gives a most competent performance, moving from wide-eyed innocence to disillusionment as wife and mother.
Barsky has cleverly contrived to use the change of seasons to develop the story and give it a coherence. The result is that Rob Hamilton (set designer) and Graham Kindred (lighting designer) emerge as the true stars of the show. Showing the change of seasons, with lovely images projected overhead and back of stage is truly inspired. But when sets outshine the story, as they do, something is definitely lacking. The fact is that Barsky has written a serviceable piece, but hardly one to move the theatrical world into new terrain.
-- Irene Backalenick
Jan. 25, 2005