April 19, 1995
REVIEW: “Great Performances,” Talking with
John P. McCarthy
(Wed. 19, 10-11:30 p.m., PBS)
Director Kathy Bates dispels the feeling of being talked at with the help of Jean Lepine's (The Player) camerawork. At times the brave direction detracts from the material. At other points it’s just right and adds a great deal. Perfs generally are first-class.
Martin casts a loving, ironic eye on six American women who inhabit places where feminine spirituality and kitsch meet. A common theme is how degradation – especially marking and maiming – can transform. The Lord figures prominently in these women’s lives and some striking images mark the uneven play.
First monologue, with Frances McDormand as a snake handler, uses snakes for a meditation on family and mysticism. An imaginative montage evokes the spectacle of Christian services that employ “serpents.”
Marcia Gay Harden’s character tells of her mother's death in “Clear Glass Marbles.” As the only monologist who ostensibly isn't talking about herself, Harden is wonderfully restrained. The abstract treatment is spot-on.
Bates directs herself as a washed-up cowgirl in “Rodeo.” There’s plenty of energy and humor, with the commercialization of the rodeo standing in for a macro loss of innocence.
In “Twirler,” Mary Kay Place finds every laugh in her baton- and God-fixated character. Seg has the most poetry: twirling as “blue-collar Zen”; Jesus’ face with “hair like rhinestones”; and the eerie image of crucified twirlers with their blood dripping on the snow. Directing, acting and material all come together.
In contrast, “Marks,” about a tattooed woman, doesn't succeed on any level. The execution of the obvious script is less than original and the tattoos are poorly drawn. Not even Beverly D'Angelo can make it work.
Finally, Celeste Holm delivers a thin speech about aging. Holm has her moments, but it resembles a denture commercial. She and Bates can’t do much with the guiding metaphor of death as light being extinguished.
Talking With fits comfortably in the “Great Performances” tradition of bringing works infused with Americana to a wider audience.
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