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OFF-BROADWAY REVIEWS

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NEW YORK POST TOP GIRLS REVIEW

 

 

New York Post Review

UP THE LADDER IN SKIRTS

by Clive Barnes

 

Have times changed, or have I? When I first encountered Caryl Churchill's "Top Girls" in 1982, I was fascinated by its relentless take on feminism - specifically, the glass ceiling and how to break it.


Now, as the Manhattan Theater Club brought it back last night - with a top-flight cast featuring Marisa Tomei and Martha Plimpton - I was engrossed by Churchill's technical command of the theater and her willingness to take risks.


It's the early 1980s in Margaret Thatcher's Britain, and Marlene (Elizabeth Marvel) has just been promoted to head an employment agency called Top Girls.


Now she's giving a celebratory lunch for a few friends at a chic London restaurant. The first guest, a Scotswoman, is dressed a little eccentrically, but it's not until an ornately clad Japanese woman arrives that we realize something strange is afoot.


Indeed. Five women from various places and periods - including the mysterious ninth century Pope Joan (Plimpton), a character from Chaucer, another from a painting by Brueghel - assemble over dinner, merrily chatting about women . . . and, of course, men.


This rather Shavian scene is clever, intriguing and deliberately confusing. For in the play's realistic last two acts, Churchill swims into clearly political waters - and drowns Marlene in the process.


Marlene, you see, has scaled the slimy pole of success at the expense of others, including her own rather dim daughter, Angie (Plimpton again), who's been handed over to Marlene's sister Joyce to raise in rural England. In fact, Angie's been led to believe Marlene is her aunt.


The play promotes feminism by offering its mirror image - a sort of "Planet of the Apes" concept - so Marlene behaves as callously as any male overseer.


Even more disquieting is that the women working in the employment agency spend their time coaching other women on how to appeal to potential male employers.


What price feminism now? Yet by this tortuous inversion, Churchill makes one seriously consider the female/male equation more closely than would a simple propagandist screed.


The play would still be improved by cutting and has severe problems in structure - not least the last act taking place a year before the other two.


James Macdonald's staging is beautifully nuanced, especially in its careful development of Marlene, with Marvel giving a shaded performance that covers every base.


All the acting has a perfect ensemble feel to it. Plimpton shines in her dual roles as a dry Pope Joan and a touching Angie, and Tomei is splendid in three roles.


It's a provocative play, one that - 26 years later - makes one think and think again.

 

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SHOW INFORMATION:

Perf Schedule:

Tue-Sat at 8pm

Wed, Sat, & Sun at 2pm

 

Tickets:
$46.50 - $91.50
Call: 212-239-6200
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Show Run Time:
2 hours & 25 minutes with 1 intermission

 

Theatre Information:
Biltmore Theatre
261 West 47th Street
New York, NY 10036

 

 
 

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