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A CurtainUp Review
Playing With Grown Ups

"I find adults fascinating. I could watch them for hours. Much more than animals at the zoo. They make everything in life so complicated." — Stella.
Playing With Grown Ups
L-R: Trudi Jackson, Alan Cox and Daisy Hughes
In Hannah Patterson's Playing With Grown Ups sixteen-year-old Stella (Daisy Hughes) gets plenty of opportunity to indulge her fascination with older people. As the latest squeeze of Jake (Alan Cox), a film studies professor who's old enough to be her father, she is brought along for his visit to meet Lilly. That's the nine-week old daughter of Joanna (Trudi Jackson) and Robert (Mark Rice-Oxley), who like Jake, are headed into their forties. Joanna is on leave from her book editing job and he works in the college film studies department that Jake heads.

As it turns out, the baby is not a bundle of joy but one of those infants who cries incessantly (she's either colicky or reacting to a lack of bonding with her mom). While Joanna apparently escaped the trauma of an age weakened biological clock, she does seem to be suffering from severe post-partum depression. What's more, the marriage is clearly in trouble. The long-delayed parenting has kicked up problems dating back to Joanna, Robert and Jake's college days and her decision to throw in her lot with the devoted Robert instead of the commitment shy, bon vivant Jake.

While Stella is wise beyond her age, she brings her own fairly obvious daddy problems to her relationship with Jake(she's close to her psychotherapist mom but has no contact with dad). At any rate, she is the most cheerful and upbeat presence at this get-together and even manages to temporarily quiet the wailing infant with a lullaby. But Stella's youth, both spiritual and physical, kicks up the older trio's sense of loss of their own more enjoyable younger days. Another issue affecting Jake and Robert's long-time friendship pertains to the changes at the college which Jake as department head is more likely to survive than Robert.

That's a lot of unresolved problems to unpack into just ninety minutes. And I'm afraid Ms. Patterson, despite some savvy interaction between her characters, hasn't done justice to any of them. There seem to be several plays here, but, all put, together they fail to add up to a genuinely timely and provocative whole.

Things starts off promisingly enough with intimations of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf permeating the four-character drawing room setup. The tense atmosphere is headed for emotional explosions with the arrival of the host's old friend and his new girlfriend — especially since its fuelled by many glasses of wine.

The playwright admirably enough aims for a fresh look at the already much explored central question about whether women can have it all. Sure, being a working mom is full of stress and strain, but it's as if she's never hears of breast pumps and nannies that make it possible even though difficult. What makes Joanna different is that she represents a smaller less talked about segment of women who don't find motherhood critical to their sense of fulfillment. This exploration of the maternal instinct gets lost in the face of the more familiar situation of post-partum depression which in Joanna's case is downright dangerous.

The play's most timely issue is brought up by Jake, who sees that professions like his and Robert's as just one illustration of how people with careers once valued are in danger of becoming dinosaurs well before their time. Joanna may well find that the job she finds more satisfying than her baby is likely to become more stressful than satisfying, if not completely redundant. As Robert and Jake's college is subject to cut budgets and the need to be more trendy, so Joanna is in a changing work place — a blockbuster dominated environment that's not apt to be hospitable to publishing books by neglected women authors with modest sales appeal in the blockbuster dominated world.
Though the overall production is too muddled to live up to its potential to be provocative, the performances definitely provoke admiration. Alan Cox who was so terrific in Cornelius, another 59E59 British import (review ), captures the melancholy underneath the glibness of a man who may survive career obsolescence but not without pain. Trudi Jackson builds Joanna is also well worth seeing, as is Mark Rice-Oxley as her mild-mannered, head-in-the-sand husband. But the most appealing character and performance belongs to Daisy Hughes as the girl who discovers that adult life really can be as complicated as people make it seem.

Hannah Eidinow's sure'handed direction and Simon Scullion's simple living room set with its theme and background related movie posters serve the story well. At the intimate Theater B you almost feel as if you were actually in that living room. Whether you'd want to be there is another matter.

Playing With Grown Ups by Hannah Patterson
Directed by Hannah Eidinow
Cast: Alan Cox (Jake), Daisy Hughes (Stella), Trudi Jackson (Joanna), Mark Rice-Oxley (Robert)
Sets: Simon Scullion
Lighting: Nicholas Holdridge
Costumes: Natalie Pryce
Sound: Tom Wilson
Music Composer: Tom Hodge Stage Manager: Raynelle Wright
Running Time: 90 minutes without intermission
Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theater B
From 4/29/14; opening 5/06/14; closing 5/18/14. Tuesday to Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM and 7:15 PM.
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at May 2nd press preview
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