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Amys View, the David Hare vehicle for Dame Judi
Dench currently playing on Broadway, is a stirring, complex play that follows a
mother-daughter relationship over sixteen years. The mother is Esme Allen (played by
Dench), a famous British stage actress whose strong and imposing personality presents a
nice complement to her rather reserved daughter, Amy (played touchingly by Samantha Bond).
As the play opens (in 1979), we encounter the twenty three year-old Amy and her new beau,
Dominic, awaiting the arrival of Esme at the actress country home. A playful
repartee between the two paints a picture of a couple in love, but we later learn that
this relationship is more complicated than the first scene reveals.
Esme leads her life
quite dramatically, caring little for practicalities. She is from a generation of artists
who were able to make a comfortable living in the theater, back when theater had little
competition from other forms of entertainment. (Her deceased husbands considerable
estate also helps maintain her
in a comfortable lifestyle.) Her daughter, who has grown up in the theater, is in
love with an aspiring film maker. As portrayed by Tate Donovan, Dominic is an ambitious,
passionate young man who believes that "theater is no longer relevant" to his
generation. From Act One, Hare pits Esme and Dominic against each other, with the helpless
Amy caught in between. Not only do the two characters dislike each other intensely, but
they also stand as symbols of the changing times. Esme looks to reach her audience through
language, while Dominic favors visuals and will eventually connect with his audience by
The play is a study
of the three characters. Each act occurs a few years after the previous one and follows
the progression of their lives. Judi Dench gives a moving, stellar performance as Esme, a
complicated person who has built a solitary life after being widowed. She has little
patience for other people and while her dramatics can make her appear flighty, there is no
mistaking that she is smart as a whip and has a very sharp tongue. Very few people are
ever allowed into her world, especially someone like Dominic who quickly becomes her
adversary in the struggle for Amys happiness.
Tate Donovan presents the audience with a Dominic easily
loathed. He begins the play as a driven young would-be filmmaker but quickly develops into
a self-absorbed member of the media who places all behind his successful career. In the
second act, Dominic is no longer the idealistic artiste. He now hosts a brash television
show that attempts to tear down the "arts establishment" with insults and claims
that they are "out of touch." Hare makes quite a statement with Dominic, a
critic whose anger at the cultural elite is clearly based in a fear of what he does not
understand. By his own admission, he has attended very little theater (probably
none,) yet as a self-appointed cultural arbiter, feels that he can critique something that
he clearly does not understand. It appears that Mr. Hares own experience with the
media has deeply influenced this character; it is unfortunate and weakens his argument
that he has made Dominic not only unlikeable, but also one-sided.
neglects Amy, who continues to love him, nonetheless. A major problem of the play is that,
aside from Tates boyish good looks, it is difficult to see the attraction of such a
selfish, self-important character. Amy claims to be happy and we are constantly reminded
that it is "Amys view" that love will conquer all and that one must love
unconditionally. It is as though she thinks that her love is enough for all of them.
Throughout the four acts it is Amy who tries to bring Esme and Dominic closer to each
other. Her attempts to make peace between the two people she loves most backfire, fueling,
rather than relieving, the already tense relations between the two.
As played by Ms. Bond, Amy
is sensitive and selfless, always putting the needs of Dominic ahead of her own.
Determined to stand by her man, she is on a path that the audience can easily determine
will lead to unhappiness. She seems to find comfort in the role of suffering wife, a
reality that would pain any mother who wants her daughter to be happy and cherished.
Esmes constant reminders to Amy that Dominic is not worthy of her love only serve to
put a distance between the mother and daughter that grows with each act.
Amys View is not a
perfect play (a contrived reconciliation at the end does not seem plausible and a supposed
transformation in Dominic is hard to swallow), but it succeeds due to the strength of the
acting and Richard Eyres simple, yet quietly beautiful direction. The rest of the
cast includes Anne Pitoniak, a scene stealer as Amys grandmother and Ronald Pickup
(in a badly underwritten part) as Esmes potential suitor. Maduka Steady stands out
and is especially appealing as an eager young actor who appears in the last act.
But there is no
doubt about the fact that the play belongs to Ms. Dench, arguably one of our
greatest living stage actresses. With uncanny timing and extraordinary command of the
English language, Ms. Dench dominates the stage and creates a powerful and moving portrait
of the aging actress. Dench believably conveys the many layers of the character and
effortlessly draws the audience into her world. Esme is a manipulative and domineering
woman who has the capacity to betray her daughters confidence if she thinks it will
protect her. Yet she is also a loving mother who, when asked, gives this same child five
thousand pounds with no questions asked. Her transformation from carefree grand dame to a woman who has had the joy
stripped from her life (by the plays end she has been struck by misfortune worthy of
a Greek tragedy) is remarkable and heartbreaking.
The Act Four Esme is
a shell of her former self, yet ironically, within the shell is the true essence of the
character. By the last scene, all dramatics and pretense are long gone and for the first
time, the audience is treated to an honest look at her soul. The quiet dignity and
piercing sadness of Denchs Esme are painfully sad to watch and leave much to think
about long after the curtain falls.
- Nella Vera