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Larry Litt

20th Century Blues

"20th Century Blues"
Written by Susan Miller
Directed by Emily Mann
Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd St. New York
Reviewed on November 21, 2017.


We live in the time of 'Baby Boomer' reflections. Hundreds of books, plays and films are being produced trying to analyze the lives of people born between 1946 and1956. They definitely were different than their parents, teachers and spiritual leaders. Some were hippies: either political, spiritual or on drugs. Some were technical and digital geniuses who changed the way we communicate, socialize and think. Others were crusading politicians, committed helping and medical professionals or investigative journalists.
I include myself in this group. We knew we were different because we were going to change the world without war. Looking at today's politics and culture we have come a long way from the Vietnam War and its protests. For many 'Baby Boomers' the realization that they are aging in a time when youth and its culture are the focus of every industry creates inherent psychic fear. We may face years of medicine, surgery and assisted living facilities. Whether we survive or not remains to be seen.

Franchelle Stewart Dorn and Polly Draper in "20th Century Blues."
Photo by Joan Marcus.

Playwright Susan Miller has captured these external and internal anxieties in the funny and heart wrenching dramady, "20th Century Blues." We meet four atypical upscale 'baby boomer' women coming to grips with their changing lives. Though it's a play about women it's not only for women. Men are asking the same questions about their futures. "How did I get so old? How did my country get this polarized and deceitful? Where do I go now? How can I keep my momentum going?"
Beautifully set in a realistic Soho artist's loft, four friends meet annually for an artistic photo shoot by one of them, 'Danny' the big time artist. Polly Draper oozes the artist's love of creativity and exhibition into a character who is unexpectedly challenged when she asks her friends for model releases to exhibit the photos she shot over the 40 years they've been meeting. She wants to show the world the reality of life's changes in these women. The show is to be at New York's Museum of Modern Art.

Two of the friends immediately agree to sign the releases. Flamboyant Franchelle Stewart Dorn fills the role of 'Mac,' the investigative reporter, with a well rounded life as a lover and unflinching researcher whose career is on the line due to super fast 24 hour cycle digital journalism. She drinks and complains about the youth's demands and their market. She knows she can't change it. But what to do after her successes and rewards disappear? She needs to be on top of her game all the time. She will gladly sign a release.

Polly Draper and Beth Dixon in "20th Century Blues."
Photo by Joan Marcus.

'Gabby,' the dedicated veterinarian and kookiest of the friends is a lovable fireball of energy and compassion. Charmingly played by Kathryn Grody, 'Gabby' is everyone's best friend and soulful listener. She's learned to accept the fragile lives and deaths of her patients while comforting their human companions. Yet she fears her own domestic loneliness. She fears living alone more than anything. 
However it's Ellen Parker who breathes reality into this play. Her character 'Sil' is not a career success. She loathes the look of an aging face. She doesn't want people to see her image in a museum wall looking older and less attractive than she wants to be. Worse she hasn't the financial success of her three friends. She feels insecure in her looks and terribly anxious about her future. She won't sign the releases. She's the contrarian opposing her three friends who want the MoMA exhibition to happen. 'Sil' is the Everyman we meet everywhere who wonders what horror or failure is coming next. Which new wrinkle will turn off a prospective real estate client. What young Turk will snatch a sale away because of his or her appearance. So much fear in a world of so much plenty. Ms. Parker lets us know 'Sil' doesn't have a cushion to fall back on. 'Sil's' working world anxiety dominates the stage.

Polly Draper,Kathryn Grody,Franchelle Stewart Dorn, and Ellen Parker in "20th Century Blues" . Photo by Joan Marcus.


Director Emily Mann brilliantly moves these women through a night of pleasure, camaraderie and pain. 20th Century Blues is very good theater. Warning: It's not television's Golden Girls our mothers loved so much. Instead it's real women not afraid to live their lives in our ever-changing society. I hoped they would succeed.





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