Mike Leigh’s Ecstasy is set in London, in December of 1979. Much like the US now, an impending financial crisis was about to hit the working class with a vengeance. These characters, however, already live life on the brink; their lives are only going to get worse, and on some level, they know that.
Jean (Mary Monahan) works in a gas station and lives in a tiny one-room flat. Her best friend, Dawn (Gina LeMoine) got married young, and has four small children. Jean’s current boyfriend, Roy (Josh Marcantel), is clearly only interested in the sex, and has conveniently forgotten to tell his wife about Jean. One night, after the wife arrives to confront Roy and Jean, Jean and Dawn decide to go out. They return late, after many drinks, with Dawn’s husband Mick (Brandon McCluskey) and his friend Len (Stephen Haskett) in tow. After many more drinks, Dawn and Mick leave, and Jean is left to face the gaping void that is her life. Boozing only partially obscures their stultifying lives.
It’s a play about the minutiae of 1979 working class life in London. Nothing much happens in this play, but that’s the point—nothing much will happen in these people’s lives, either. The space at 85 East 4th Street is appropriately claustrophobic, long and narrow, affording us the true joy of a one-room coldwater flat. The actors are surprisingly adept at the broad Cockney accents, and I don’t mean to sound patronizing—it is really difficult for a non-native to nail a broad Cockney accent. Their collective performances capture the grinding sameness of these people’s lives—without a good cast, this play would be too passive and depressing by far. As it is, it’s pretty depressing, but Mary Monahan’s portrayal of Jean is layered enough to keep the whole thing from collapsing into one-dimensionality. Gina LeMoine as Dawn is an appropriate foil, jocular enough to provide some laughs while unintentionally highlighting Jean’s loneliness. Director Sara Laudonia wisely keeps the focus on the actors, with simple blocking and a quick pace.
Best known in America for his films Life Is Sweet, High Hopes and Naked, Mike Leigh’s plays tend to be more naturalistic, especially this one. Through his use of casual personal detail, coupled with the ensemble’s quality and compassion, Leigh gives us a society on the edge. This particular production is very well-done, but be forewarned—it is depressing. Nothing like watching characters on the cusp of financial, emotional and spiritual crisis to make you enjoy the current recession.
Directed by Sara Laudonia
With Mary Monahan, Gina LeMoine, Stephen Heskett, Brandon McCluskey, Josh Marcantel and Lore Davis
Set Design: Damon Pelletier
Lighting Design: Paul Howle
Sound Design: Christopher Rummel
Costume Design: Lore Davis
Running Time: One hour and forty minutes with no intermission
Black Door Theatre Company in association with Horse Trade Theater Group; 85 East 4th Street, 212-868-4444
January 5-25, 2009