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Ellen W. Lytle
Maudie and Jane
"Maudie and Jane"
Directed by Hanon Reznikov
The Living Theatre
21 Clinton Street, New York City
Reviewed by Ellen W. Lytle January 29, 2008
"Maudie and Jane," the play, was written by Luciano Nattino but based on story writer Doris Lessing's "The Diary of Jane Somers." Hanon Reznikov translated the play from the Italian and directed it, casting Judith Malina as Maudie and Pat Russell as Jane.
Once you hear a play is taken from anything Doris Lessing writes, you make it a priority to see it. Once you know Judith Malina is starring in it, at her own Living Theater, you double that priority because you're sure it's Off-off Broadway fully grown and ripe to boot.
"Maudie and Jane" epitomizes raw life on stage at every angle and Reznikov stretches the two contrasting women's friendship to an almost bending point and then back again, doing for theater what Erica Jong and Philip Roth did for novels in the 70's; giving us permission to go "all the way" in any direction with our sexuality or our love.
For me this play is about such love. Maudie is a bag lady of sorts though she has an apartment upstage right, set with two old chairs covered in odd pieces of colorful fabric next to an ancient wood stove. Down stage left is a working fiberglass bathtub complete with shining chrome hoses and faucet. A blue candle is lit on the side of the tub. The rest of the stage is bare.
Jane is an editor (of sorts) for a literary magazine, and seems to have very little self confidence when we first meet her on stage, in a drug store waiting on line with Maudie. We know their inner thoughts because Reznikov has the two stars chorusing them out loud, alluding, along with the marvelous music from Patrick Grant, to Greek tragedy. Jane of course feels slighted and very put off by the dirty faced Maudie, who is dressed in sloppy clothes and given to gesticulating wildly with her mouth and hands. "Whoooshhhh" is her favorite phrase for brushing off any questions Jane presses on herm, or for dealing with life in general. But Jane is bothered by her own off handed uptightness after the first encounter with Maudie and begins visiting her. Again, Reznikov brilliantly bridges the huge gap between such an unlikely duo effortlessly. Minute by minute the friction and hostility between the two women melts into civility then friendship and even a love of sorts.
Why the bathtub on stage? Jane, a statuesque, modern woman of middle age, is not only well dressed, smart and financially comfortable, but very clean. She shows us on stage by bathing (actually) whenever she's stressed from Maudie or feels dirty. Maudie meanwhile is a handful and Malina makes her come alive with a ferocity and poignancy that is absolutely breathtaking. In a scene toward the end, the energetic Jane decides to sponge bathe Maude and it's spellbinding as she removes Maudie's clothes and then ever so gently washes her entire naked body in front of us.
Maudie's body seems for a moment to stand alone beside her as if it needs to know its person again. Jane, by this time has quit her job and is looking for her own rhythm. The process of Jane findingof herself is accelerated by befriending Maudie, who gets sick, is hospitalized, and through it all is cared for by Jane. Pat Russell's astounding performance gives a wonderfully wholesome quality which morphs into a true spirit. In the end Jane pursues Maudie with breathtaking lines about burying herself in Maudie's breasts and grinding on her bones. Then the two depart for the bedroom.
Somehow none of their sensual talk, the nudity or even Maudie's attempt to masterbate in front of us, rings of anything like lesbian love. It's an old woman afraid of dying: "Who, no, where, is that child, that small girl eating caramels…," Maudie squeals. And the younger woman is caught up in living a life she doesn't want. But they take a chance with one another and in the end, even in death, laugh together enjoying that last cup of tea.
If, as the program reads, this play runs 85 minutes without intermission, the time rolls by much too fast…
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