Laura Linney as Lucy Barton is a marvel as she commands the stage and mesmerizes her audience in the one-woman play adapted by Rona Munro from a novel by Elizabeth Strout. The work, running an intermission-less 90 minutes, is in the form of a confessional as Lucy spins her life story for us in a revealing account of her experiences, emotions and attempts to understand the trajectory of her relationships up to the present stage at which she has arrived with her earned status as a successful novelist.
“My Name is Lucy Barton” was originally produced by the London Theatre Company at the Bridge Theatre in 2018. It is now brought to us by the Manhattan Theatre Club and the London Theatre Company in association with Penguin Random House Audio.
Richard Eyre has directed with simplicity within Bob Crowley’s bare stage design, including a hospital bed, a night table and a chair, but with Luke Halls’ video design of rear projection subtly introduced within the hospital room window as background to Lucy’s narrative, which is so consistently compelling that one has to pay special attention to realize that the visuals behind her are changing. In addition to the regular theater seating, audience members are positioned on the sides of the stage, and Linney, as she strategically moves about, occasionally faces them as well as front and center.
Lucy’s recollection of her long and fearful stay in a hospital as a result of a dangerous unidentified illness is the jumping off point for her account tracing back to growing up on a farm. But this is not a play about illness. Its concerns reflect, for example, Lucy’s attempts to understand her estranged mother and achieve closeness, even though her mother’s manner eschews demonstrative affection. Yet we come to understand the underlying bond that exists, evidenced when Lucy’s mother arrives unexpectedly to visit her in the hospital.
Lucy’s reflections cover her failed marriage to a husband who hates hospital visits, and also with thoughts about experiences with her father, her brother and her children. She is a bundle of conflicted feelings, persistently trying to understand them and come to terms with their meanings. The play doesn’t really seem as deep as it intends to be, but the performance overrides any weaknesses in content.
Linney speaks with great clarity and knows how to maximize expressions, as well as how to ring laughter from the recounting of her tale. There is an air of utter truth about everything that she does and says. She moves with authority, and can switch gears when required. Linney is also immensely likable and enjoyable.
Her imitation of her mother speaking is colorful, and she slips into her mother’s voice with apparent ease and precise observations often tinged with sarcasm.
Linney’s performance is flawless and surmounts the problems of one-person shows that run the risk of becoming boring, at least in parts, in lengthy efforts to grip an audience. Surely this is the occasion for award consideration this season. Here is a fresh opportunity to see a luminous, skillful actress at work. At MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed January 19, 2020.