Review: 'Widow' Makes Stodgy Impression
Nov. 18, 2003
NEW YORK (AP) _ Mercy, 99-year-old Lucy Marsden goes on and on and on.
Well, the woman has had quite a life. Unfortunately, it's one that gets relived rather laboriously in ``Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All,'' a stodgy stage adaptation by Martin Tahse of Allan Gurganus' lengthy, best-selling novel.
This one-woman show, which opened Monday at Broadway's Longacre Theatre, is a meandering memory play, delivered by Ellen Burstyn in a quaint, folksy manner that suggests a Norman Rockwell portrait by way of a kinder, gentler Granny Clampett.
``Not to brag, folks, but stories only happen to the people who can tell them,'' says Lucy at the beginning of the evening as she sits in a nursing home ominously called Lane's End and chats with an unseen audience. And, boy, does she have a lot of stories, beginning with her marriage at age 15 to a 50-year-old Civil War veteran, Capt. Willie Marsden.
It was a union born out of ignorance on her part, although she eventually had eight children _ mostly, it seems, out of duty than anything else. Not that you hear a lot about them, except for the one accidentally blinded by his father in a shooting accident.
For much of the play, Lucy tells the story of her husband who was 13 when he joined the Confederate army as it marched through his small North Carolina town and carried him off to war.
It was the Civil War _ more than his marriage or anything else _ that defined Willie's life. His longevity gave him a notoriety that his turbulent domestic life didn't. The war also haunted him, particularly the death of his best friend, Ned, killed by a Yankee soldier while the lad frolicked in a Virginia swimming hole.
Yet Willie had other demons, too: Castalia, a one-time slave, a proud, defiant woman, who stayed on after the war to work for Willie and who forged a strange bond with the woman he married. And then there was Willie's mother, a fragile creature, nearly done in by Union troops when they torched the family plantation.
It's not that these stories aren't interesting. Some are, but they would be better off read in order to savor the rich detail that Garganus' book provides. Director Don Scardino's straightforward direction plops the star down center stage and she rarely moves, adding to the static nature of the piece. It doesn't help either that the nursing-home decor by Allen Moyer is depressingly realistic.
Burstyn, wearing ringlets of white curls, looks far too young for this ancient, flinty woman and her sunny, almost radiant smile often seems at odds with the essentially sour tale of a marriage endured rather than cherished.
The actress also has a difficult time with the various accents _ from slave to soldier to Willie to Lucy. ``Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All'' may give you a mess of vivid details, but Lucy and the parade of people she encountered never really come to life at all.