By William Wolf

APOLOGIA  Send This Review to a Friend

Family and personal issues are at the root of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s perceptive play “Apologia,” a Roundabout Theatre Company presentation that was first produced by The Bush Theatre in London in 2009, the year in which the drama is set in a cottage somewhere in the English countryside. The problems encountered are expertly spotlighted by the fine cast, with Stockard Channing in the leading role. The direction by Daniel Aukin builds tension with cumulative effect.

Those who have followed Channing’s career know her profound capabilities, and here she is in top notch form playing Kristin Miller, an American art historian and writer living abroad. She can make cutting remarks, such as saying she was an American by birth, not by choice. There are references to the earlier days of political protest, including opposition to the Vietnam War and when she was a communist. There is a portrait of Karl Marx in her bathroom.

Kristin has two sons, Peter and Simon, and the play begins as Peter (Hugh Dancy) arrives with his girlfriend Trudi (Talene Monahon) for a dinner celebrating his mother’s birthday. Kristin is rather shocked to find that Trudi is an American, and a religious one at that, and that the two met at a religious event. Looking down at Trudi, Kristin doesn’t think much of her intelligence, but the play at that point is still young.

There is an upsetting family back story. When the sons were young, Kristin’s husband, since deceased, ran off with them, and Kristin, although distraught, concentrated on pursuing her career, ultimately penning a successful memoir that failed to mention her boys. The issue of motherhood runs beneath the surface, specifically whether all women are best equipped to be moms, and whether motherhood and skills at that role are necessary to become a complete woman without pangs of guilt about failure.

Present at the dinner are John Tillinger as acerbic Hugh, Kristin’s long-time friend and Megalyn Echikunwoke as Claire, son Simon’s actress girlfriend. Simon, who has been estranged from his mother and is suffering from depression, is absent. As the evening progresses, all hell breaks loose with a mess of recriminations surfacing. The successful Claire, very fashion conscious, is wearing a designer dress that cost 2000 pounds. Trudi accidentally spills red wine on it and tensions explode.

There is also phone call for Claire that Kristin unintentionally intercepts, thinking the cell phone is her own. It is a man with an obscene suggestion. Revealing.

By the end of the first act, with all offstage at that point, in walks Kristin’s son Simon, also portrayed by Hugh Dancy. In the second act we learn that he has come to have a pointed conversation with his mother about something that has long been bothering him. Kristin, chatting away, is busy extracting bits of glass from his hand following an accident, but Simon works up the courage to get to the point. Kristin is shocked at his upset, and tries to comfort him, but by that point it is Kristin who also needs comforting about her life.

Channing is increasingly superb as she straddles keeping up a front and dealing with deep emotional feelings. By the time Peter and Trudi announce their engagement, Kristin is gaining new respect for Trudi, who shows considerable wisdom in recognizing the anxieties in Kristin and speaking a truth to Kristin about her life and her current angst.

“Apologia,” for all of the humor it contains along with the outbursts, is a sad play marked by the impressive acting of a well-chosen cast, but it is Channing’s skillfully modulated performance that is especially affecting. At the Laura Pels Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed October 19, 2018.


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