Best Actress (2000)

Beverly May, Mrs. Klein

We must admit a certain bias toward neurotically flamboyant actors--not the Sarah Bernhardts and John Barrymores of yore, who took theatrical polish and scrubbed themselves till they bled with the effort of universalizing tragedy in ridiculous booming voices. We speak of those who have taken the so-called Stanislavskian Method of psychological detail and self-exploration and turned it into a parade of confessional tics and alienated affectations. But then we watch a consummate professional who needn't gesticulate eccentrically or break the dialogue into chewable staccato chunks, someone who can create wholly different characters without the birth pains that plague more stylized performers, and we are reminded that minimalism has its rewards too. Beverly May, an Obie-winning veteran of many Broadway and off-Broadway productions and a former member of Adrian Hall's ensemble at the Dallas Theater Center, seems at once calmer and more passionate than virtually everyone else with whom she shares a stage. She would have been an easy choice for the title role of Mrs. Klein, the story of imperious Austrian psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, who fought private and professional wars with her degreed daughter and who may have driven her son to suicide. This Melanie Klein manqu disturbed, disgusted, and touched us without Beverly May once revealing the actor's agenda. That's the most sublime illusion theater can create. If you're thinking that our selection of Susan Sargeant's Wingspan Theatre is exclusively because of May's performance in Mrs. Klein and in Grace & Glorie (when she played an illiterate Appalachian woman), you are partially right--except that Sargeant is no slouch as an artist herself. The best show at the Festival of Independent Theatres, Only Me, was Wingspan's. Sargeant has a knack for picking material for all-female shows whose shelf life isn't limited by its own doctrinaire concerns, such as The Last Flapper, her smashing one-woman show about Zelda Fitzgerald. Political art can be powerful, as the poet James Merrill once observed, but once another cause comes along, the words begin to smell like they're rotting. We hope Sargeant and May continue their association in the future.


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