For fans who loved "thirtysomething," the 1980s television drama about a group of friends exploring life, love, family, relationships and careers, the demise of the series left audiences wondering what their favorite characters would be doing at, say, fiftysomething.
Now, Polly Draper, who breathed empathy and life into Ellyn Warren on "thirtysomething," is at in Sag Harbor in "My Brilliant Divorce," directed by Matt McGrath.
In a memorably incandescent performance, Draper plays Angela Kennedy Lipsky, a woman in her 50s whose husband, whom she dubs "Round Head," has recently left her for a younger woman and whose daughter has taken off for points south with a boyfriend, leaving her facing the future stunningly alone.
And it's a performance that fits Draper as comfortably and well as the jeans and loafers she wears during the show — one into which she pours her heart in a way that's both heartachingly real and dotted with humorous touches of self-deprecation. A performance that resonates deeply with anyone who's ever faced the specter of loneliness.
Draper, who uses her trademark throaty voice to bring all the characters in Kennedy Lipsky's temporarily shattered existence to life, is a master of her craft. There's the rich Irish brogue of her mother, the dismissive tone of her divorce attorney, the heavy accent of her house cleaner — who divulges all the details of Kennedy Lipsky's ex's affair — and the isolated warmth of a stranger who answers the phone in the middle of the night when she calls the hot line for Persons Experiencing Suicidal Thoughts, a.k.a. PESTS.
Using her voice, rich facial expressions and fluid body movements, Draper is able to bring her audience on a roller coaster ride of laughter and tears as she demonstrates just how equally painful and flat-out funny becoming a woman of a certain age can be.
One scene, in which Draper demonstrates how to bend the knees, hold the chin up, and keep a smile plastered on the face in order to belie her age to a blind date, leaves the audience laughing out loud. Draper is not afraid to take risks or play the wounded clown in order to bring the audience deeper into the complex range of emotions she's experiencing as a woman who's lost her way.
The play, in its American premiere at the Bay Street Theatre, is written by Geraldine Aron and examines the larger issues of what can happen when a woman, wife, and mother who once had a fulfilling career as a window dresser gives up her professional ambitions to raise a family. It's a timeless question, one that Draper takes on with the comfortable familiarity and conversational tone of an old friend — someone to share a coffee, a laugh and confidences with.
Members of the audience could be seen nodding during moments of self-recognition as Draper navigated the first unsettling days of her new journey, alone save her dog, Dexter — which was brought beautifully to life as a prop on wheels — on a set designed with a stark realism by Robin Vest.
Draper's performance is a tour de force, executed with soft-spoken power. As the show winds down, audiences are left wishing for more, hoping for another few minutes to hear just how Angela Kennedy Lipsky's life turns out.
In a word, "My Brilliant Divorce" is just that: Brilliant.
Performances run every day this week at 8 p.m., with an additional performance at 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The show's final performance, on Sunday, June 24, takes place at 7 p.m. For more information and tickets, call 631-725-9500 or visit baystreet.org.
Bay Street has a special offer for divorcées: Bring proof of your divorce to the box office and recieve two tickets for the price of one.