Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

May 23, 2008

The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore

Hartford Stage, Hartford, CT
May 21, 2008
By Bernadette Johnson

Academy Award-winning Olympia Dukakis is Flora “Sissy” GoForth, a formerly glamorous American widow sequestered in her mountaintop villa on the Italian Riviera who is frantically dictating her memoirs to her secretary, both day and night. She has two deadlines, one with her publishers, the other with death. Confronted by her own mortality, she lashes out at all around her, in particular her secretary, “Blackie” (Maggie Lacey), a prim and proper Vassar girl.

Christopher Flanders (Kevin Anderson), a good-looking young poet and mobile sculptor who has earned the nickname “Angel of Death” due to his reputation for bringing “comfort” and companionship to rich dying ladies, gains access to the villa, but is unwelcome. “Passports expire; so do invitations,” GoForth reminds him. “Sissy GoForth is not ready to go forth yet.”

Realism and symbolism are interwoven throughout the play, and the audience is never quite sure who the characters really are or what they represent. One thing is certain. For a play with such a morbid theme, the laughs just keep coming. Dukakis gives a superb performance. She is callous and sarcastic, and her delivery and sense of timing are impeccable. From her sickbed (deathbed), she shifts into high gear effortlessly when she realizes there is a young man, possibly a last chance for love, on the premises. Her hysterical take on a Kabuki dancer (in full regalia) is priceless.

It is Dukakis who keeps the tone light. Anderson is at his best (read that “funniest”) as the neglected uninvited houseguest who is denied food. At more serious moments, talking about his life and his role as a “helper,” his delivery was sometimes flat and at times, his words were unintelligible (acoustics?).

Scenic designer Jeff Cowie offers an imposing three-villa set separated by semi-sheer curtains against a mountainous backdrop. A terrace in front of the main villa, complete with bridged ravines, provides the main setting. The constancy of crashing waves sustains the mood.