• U.S.

Theater: Painful Truth the Octette Bridge Club

2 minute read
William A. Henry III

The most common lament of stage actresses is a lack of good parts for older women. The Octette Bridge Club, a comedy about eight matronly Irish Catholic sisters who meet every other Friday during the 1930s and 1940s to play cards and swap stories, remedies that problem. The narrative is slight and achieves its climaxes by announcing rather than portraying them. But the current production displays some of Broadway’s most skilled actresses demonstrating how to employ the briefest dialogue to imply unspoken volumes. Playwright Barry keeps the inner lives of the sisters well guarded, by intention: he means to examine the kind of militantly conventional family in which candor is considered bad taste and emotional intimacy is a form of weakness. Whenever a painful truth slips out, these women change the subject or crack a joke.

The performers dig beneath this mannerism to suggest years of buried sorrow. Nancy Marchand, as the family’s self-described cutup, has the gift of making banal observations sound witty. Anne Pitoniak, as the eldest and prissiest, combines dictatorial will with genuine dignity. Peggy Cass is the family entertainer, Elizabeth Franz its happiest housewife and Gisela Caldwell its edgy protofeminist, whose eventual crack-up seems to result from her discontent with women’s lot. The most affecting performance comes from Bette Henritze, as a stroke victim whose singsong speech does not obscure a larger tragedy. When she admits, “I’m not very demonstrative,” she speaks for the whole family and sets in motion a tentative embrace of reconciliation that ends the play without really changing the lonely togetherness of the octette.

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