As if we needed another reminder that women can’t have it all, along comes Alexi Kaye Campbell’s supremely frustrating family drama Apologia.
Famous radical/art historian Kristin (Stockard Channing, perfectly cast) is celebrating a birthday, and her sons have come to her English countryside cottage to have a go at her—I mean, to celebrate: Peter (Hugh Dancy, who also starred in Campbell’s The Pride), a banker, has his very grating, very American, much younger fiancée, Trudi (a shrill Talene Monahon) in tow; the unstable Simon (also Dancy) arrives under cover of night, bleeding like a wounded animal. Also on hand to pop the bubbly: Simon’s girlfriend, Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke), a glamorous, slightly vacuous soap star who presents Kristin with a pricey “transformative rejuvenation” face cream; and Kristin’s dear friend and fellow activist Hugh (John Tillinger, stepping out of the director’s chair), who has crafted a colorful toast for the occasion: “Over the years we have watched you evolve from feisty American nymph to placard-wielding activist, from alarmingly coiffed Courtauld post-graduate to even more alarmingly coiffed hippy bride. In your pursuit of the common good you have offered yourself to as many causes as I’ve had social diseases…” Tillinger, incidentally, who claims in his bio that “this production marks his long unawaited return to the boards,” is a delight.
There’s also a giant elephant in the room: Kristin’s recently released memoir, in which Peter and Simon are conspicuously absent. According to Claire, the already emotionally brittle Simon is “devastated”; Peter is none too pleased either, judging by his after-dinner explosion. (In case Peter’s outburst isn’t dramatic enough, Campbell also throws in a red-wine spill and an oh-no-she-didn’t revelation via, of all things, identical cellphones.)
You’ll be tempted to sympathize with Kristin, but, my goodness, Campbell doesn’t make it easy. Her claws come out every chance she gets—for instance, describing Claire as a “big gaping hole,” and calling her soap “without a doubt the biggest pile of putrid shite I have ever seen in my life.” Pretending to show interest in Peter’s job: “How’s that awful bank you work for? Still raping the Third World?” And reacting with puzzled disdain at Peter’s and Trudi’s faith, or, as she calls it, “outmoded patriarchal propaganda.” (In fact, Trudi’s Christianity seems designed explicitly to elicit bitchy comments from Kristin.) She is gifted a tender, Arkadina-esque scene with Simon, when she’s bandaging his hand in her dimly lit kitchen—because of course the best way to remove splinters is in near-darkness: “You were never there,” he whispers. “I have to tell you now that the thing I remember most about you is your absence.” And she wasn’t; she knows that. She can’t even look at Simon. Her ex-husband took the boys away—just took them from right under her nose in Florence; we know this at this point.
Yet Kristin never gets a chance to really tell her story. She gives Peter what passes for an explanation when people have their suitcases packed: “Something about me finding my voice threatened him.… So he twisted my arm, twisted my soul into making a choice. And I had to take a stand.” But her memoir was titled Apologia. She explains the title to Trudi: “A formal, written defence of one’s opinions or conduct.” Shouldn’t Kristin get her own?
Apologia opened Oct. 16, 2018, and runs through Dec. 18 at the Laura Pels Theatre. Tickets and information: roundabouttheatre.org