20th CENTURY BLUES: Show Review by Robin Gorman Newman


(photo credit: Carol Rosegg)

Danny (Polly Draper) is an accomplished, fit and stylish photographer who has been chronicling the lives of her three BFFs over the decades, and now wants to bare all, so to speak, in a prestigious public exhibition of her work at The Museum of Modern Art. She is also an adoptive mom, coping with her own senior moms beginning dementia, so her plate is full.  But, there is strength and fierceness in women power, and Danny’s supportive postmenopausal crew are gathered in her NYC apartment, as they have for the past 40 years, for yet another photo opp over a secret recipe french toast.

This visit, however, takes on a different tone. When Danny asks each to sign a waiver agreeing to the use of their photos she has shot to date, it conjures up a host of raw feelings, running the gamut from warm ‘n reminiscent to shock and discomfort.

Divorcee Sil (Ellen Parker) balks the loudest, as she carefully engineers her image (which she aims to potentially reinvigorate via plastic surgery) as a hard-working real estate broker competing with younger reps in a cutthroat professional arena.

Rounding out the 60-something foursome are Mac (Franchelle Steward Dorn), a gay, seasoned Black journalist who is working at staying relevant in the tech age, and Veterinarian Gabby (Kathryn Grody), who is insecure about her future should something happen to her healthy husband.

How heartening to witness the love and backbone, and neuroses, among these complex women, reinforcing the vitalness of female bonds. What better way to look back on your life than with devoted friends who have borne witness to much over the decades, including failed relationships, cancer survival, career reinvention, etc.  They eat, they dance, they smoke a joint, they share and debate.

Opening the one hour, 40 minute, no intermission play, with Danny delivering a Ted Talk (conjuring up the work of Wendy Wasserstein in The Heidi Chronicles), doesn’t get the play off ‘n running, but once we are in the company of these gals, we get immersed in their camaraderie and at times, clever and insightful banter.

(photo credit: Joan Marcus)

While clearly the focus is on these women, some of the most endearing moments are actually with Danny and her mom Bess and Danny’s son Simon (Charles Socarides) and his grandmother (Beth Dixon).  I would have liked to learn more about Danny’s relationship with Simon and how she has endeavored to raise him.

All the actors more than hold their own, and Emily Mann directs with a sensitive hand. I’m a huge fan of Draper…..since her 1980s television role on Thirtysomething…..so she was a treat to watch and turned in a dynamic performance.

Costume design is by Jennifer von Mayrhauser, lighting design by Tony Award-winner Jeff Croiter, and sound design by Darron L West.

20th Century Blues, by Obie-Award winner Susan Miller, is an earnest and at times painful, yet comedic take on aging and lives lived fully with intent.  And, while many may cringe at the notion of growing older in today’s society, celebrating each birthday with grace and appreciation (and in this case, classic photographic documentation vs. social media), is indeed to be treasured.

20th Century Blues is playing through January 28th at The Pershing Square Signature Theatre in NY.

Visit www.20thcenturyblues.com