Monday, April 13, 2009

Review: Chasing Manet

Lynn Cohen and Jane Alexander. James Leynse photo.

Old Age Brings Youthful Delight

By Lauren Yarger
In a theater season offering a seemingly never-ending supply of plays mired in dark topics and dysfunction, what a delight Tina Howe’s Chasing Manet at Primary Stages is, especially since it fills us with hope, laughter and refreshes the spirit, even as the playwright examines the frustrations and indignities of growing old.

Jane Alexander stars as Catherine Sargent, the legally blind distant relative of painter John Singer Sargent, who passes her days at the Mount Airy Nursing Home lying in bed and repeating the mantra “out, I want out.” Her son Royal (Jack Gilpin) has relocated her away from familiar Boston so she can be nearer to him, but he rarely visits and when he does, relations are tense since Catherine finds fault with everything he does and says.

New roommate Rennie Waltzer (Lynn Cohen) suffers from memory loss, thinks her dead husband is visiting and has trouble getting around without a walker. She frustrates Catherine with her gleeful exuberance over the new accommodations she mistakes for a hotel with room service. Rennie’s family enjoys frequent visits from daughter Rita (Julie Halston), who doubles as an entertainingly wacky wheel-chair bound resident of the home) and other family members (the cast, all of whom play multiple roles, is rounded out by Vanessa Aspillaga, David Margulies and Rob Riley. They try to include Catherine in their good-natured visits, but she remains in bed facing the wall until someone misidentifies the Manet painting hanging above her bed as a Monet.

Suddenly Catherine is animated and sharing about her life as a renowned artist. This comes as a shock, not only to the Waltzers, but to the audience, because Alexander’s portrayal, under the direction of Michael Wilson, paints Catherine as someone who would be more comfortable hosting society galas on Beacon Hill, rather than modeling for and painting nudes like she tells us she once did. The revelation, though, gives insight into the now blind character, no longer able to see the work of art. This, combined with moaning patients and wheelchairs casting shadows as they hang from the ceiling (sets, lighting and sound with original music from by Tony Straiges, Howell Binkley and John Gromada) create an atmosphere that never lets the women break free of the old age and death surrounding them. Costume designer David C. Woolard even dresses stage crew in orderly garb so the mood is uninterrupted.

Catherine and Rennie soon hatch a plan to escape and take a voyage on the luxury ship QE II. Some humorous moments ensue as Rennie merrily divulges the plan to nursing home staff and her family, but they think it’s just the dementia talking. A bit where the two women joyfully pack their stool-softening pills is quite amusing.

Howe’s treatment of the women and how they cope with the inevitable is poignant, uplifting and gives us insight into the plight of the elderly. I came out of the theater wishing my grandmother were still here so I could give her a hug and tell her how much she meant to me.

Chasing Manet plays at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., NY. For tickets, call 212.279.4200 or visit

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• Lord’s Name Taken in Vain
• Woman in the painting is nude

1 comment:

Retta Blaney said...

I'm so glad you liked this, Lauren. Tina Howe's plays are such blessings -- full of delicious humor and life-affirming spirit. I recommend reading others, especially "The Art of Dining," "Painting Churches" and "Approaching Zanzibar."
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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (, an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.


All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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