In Act Two Donald and Mark actually manage to have the most penetrating dialogue of the entire play. They begin to peel away the layers of their father and son roles and to confront what has been a mostly distant, empty relationship. Donald reveals to his son that he knows about his wife's affair. He observes: "Marriage is hanging in there when you know you're not wanted," one of the more interesting lines in the play for its veracity. He also reveals he has felt like an outcast in his own home for the last 30 years. The scene is fairly strong, but instead of embracing, getting teary-eyed, and moving on, Donald is given this line: "I think I must be catching a cold." Another TV moment. Robert Bly would stomp out of the theater with his band of sensitive yet rugged men! What could Mellor have been thinking?
It suffices to say that Betty is not a passionate woman. The implicit requirement of that trait is to be impassioned about something. Antigone, passionate about justice; Rosalind, passionate about intelligence and equanimity; Stella, passionate about passion. Hysteria is not passion. There is nothing passionate about Betty because there is nothing unique about her. Superficially the frantic choices she makes in the last five minutes of the play are feasible. But emotionally her decisions are not very convincing. We haven't seen the psychological unloosening and emotional experimentation that make up a believable metamorphosis.
Loretta Swit's Betty could use a heavy dose of Hot Lips Houlihan's fire
Directed by Robert Kalfin. Written by Kay Mellor. Starring Loretta Swit, Scott Andrew Harrison, and W.C. Green. Through April 16
Coconut Grove Playhouse, 3500 Main Hwy., Miami, 305-442-4000
Comedy is an equation, not a formula. Unlike tragedy it cannot be foreshadowed, because it springs from the character's reaction to life more than from life itself. And A Passionate Woman is not funny. Loretta Swit, as an icon from the popular television show M*A*S*H, has two options. She could play such a strong and well-developed character that the audience forgets who Hot Lips is within the first five minutes. (Recall Jean Stapleton in the Playhouse's Eleanor: Her Secret Journey for that.) The other and more feasible option would be to play off Maj. Margaret Houlihan's hot-tempered and mouthy persona. Use it to add some depth to Betty. Swit transcends her past, but she doesn't create anything interesting enough to replace it. That can mostly be blamed on the script, but a more resourceful actress, maybe Kathleen Turner for example, could have pulled it off.
In the end Betty hovers over the audience in a hot-air balloon juxtaposed against the aforementioned blue sky. She waves and shouts at us: "You know something? We've got to live every moment in this life. It may be all we've got." Yet another TV moment! We have not been entertained but distracted. Contented audience members cheer. Carpe diem! But what about those of us who still go to the theater to find out what connects us to one another as human beings? What about those of us who want to be shocked or surprised or who want to have new insight into the human condition? What about those strong female roles seen superbly executed before on the Coconut Grove Playhouse's stages, as in Eleanor, Medianoche, or Goodbye, My Friduchita? Considering the unevenness of the theater's programming, it's about a 5050 chance they'll reemerge.