Esme is a spoiled grande dame, determined not to work in a medium as lowly as telly, then compelled by financial straits to take a supporting role on a sub-par medical drama. Amy's a selfish little twat, not ashamed to ask her mum for a four-figure handout, but too stubborn to admit she's incapable of earning a living herself. Dominic, a critic-turned-schlock-filmmaker, is a one-dimensional prat given to rants about how boring live theater is.

He has a point. Amy's View (reviewed at a preview) is precisely the sort of material that drives young people, and not a few older ones, away from theater for good.

The only compelling reason to see this play in its runs in London and on Broadway was the presence of Dame Judi Dench as Esme. She can make anything better—a play as flat as this, or a bad movie version of a good musical, as her husky-voiced solo in the film Nine attests.

Producer Barbara Weinberger (center) wears red in curtain calls for Death Express! in contrast to the black and white costumes, set and makeup.
Phillip Allen
Producer Barbara Weinberger (center) wears red in curtain calls for Death Express! in contrast to the black and white costumes, set and makeup.

Death Express! continues through January 17 at Bank of America Theatre, Eisemann Center, Richardson. Call 972-744-4650.

Amyís View continues through January 31 at Theatre Three. Call 214-871-3300.

But a small-d dame can't save Amy's View. And actress Coit, a regular at Theatre Three since the gaslight era, lacks the depth of technique of a Dame Judi that's needed for the emotionally heavy bellowing scenes. Costumed in garish kimonos and a turban (!), though the play's set in the 1990s, not the Roaring '20s, Coit, a chirpy little thing, becomes Debbie Reynolds playing Norma Desmond. As directed by Jac Alder, the actors stand like stick figures, arms hanging limply at their sides. Given that they're constantly pouring and swallowing brandies and sherries—you know, the way the English in plays like this always do—their characters' steadiness is admirable. Drunk, they might have been less starchy and more likable.

Playing Esme's elderly mother-in-law, the wonderful Terry McCracken gets off one or two sharp lines, and then her character spends most of the last two acts in a chair off to the side, napping as the others go on talking and talking. Just a guess: She wasn't acting.

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