By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Edie Falco is the big draw for The Madrid, a play by a little-known author who also happens to be a producer on Nurse Jackie, an enormously popular TV series starring Emmy-winning Falco in the title role. Falco’s fame was firmly established as Carmen Soprano in The Sopranos, for which she won three Emmys, two Golden Globes and two SAG awards. The Madrid has none of the magnetic characters or the quotable dialogue of either of those shows.
The plot centers on Martha (Falco), a kindergarten teacher who one day mysteriously vanishes. She leaves her loving husband (John Ellison Conlee) and daughter (Phoebe Strole), her job, her ailing mother (Frances Sternhagen) and her meddlesome but concerned neighbors (Christopher Evan Welch and Heidi Schreck) without a word. Oddly, nobody worries that she is harmed or dead. Months later she reappears in a Starbuck’s where Sarah, her college-graduate daughter works, having foregone both a trip to Guatemala and an interview for a teaching job to stay home with her heartbroken father. Martha makes Sarah promise not to tell her father that she is living in a sleazy apartment building called the Madrid not far from the family home. Sarah agrees because she is so desperate to keep her mother in her life.
Martha declares, “I have worked very hard to get here,” having planned her disappearance for three years. She never explains herself in any way that elicits sympathy (doesn’t everybody feel the “endlessness” of it all sometimes?). Sarah, for all her take-charge martyrdom, is acid-tongued, and Rose, Maratha’s mother, is judgmental and annoying despite the encroaching darkness of Alzheimer’s. The neighbor, Becca, is a helicopter parent and a busybody. In other words, this is a collection of relatively unpleasant women, none of whom one would want to have as a friend. The male characters fare better, although their hen-peckedness is more pitiable than sweet.
The result is a very capably acted play with very realistic dialogue that struggles to persuade us to care about these people. The situations are recognizable and familiar and painful, but then we knew they were painful – this is the stuff of daytime soaps. Not much light shed here.
Manhattan Theatre Club, NY City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St. Tickets: $85. Information: 212-581-1212. Through April 14.