Top Girls written by Caryl Churchill and directed by Micheline Chevrier examines what it means and what it entails to be a successful woman. The play revolves around Marlene (Laura Condlln), who has been promoted to the top position of a London employment agency. Victorian adventuress Isabella Bird, a Japanese Emperor’s mistress, Pope Joan, and a Flemish avenger born from a Brueghel painting are there to celebrate.
This play had everything going for it – good actors, good writing, cool set, fun music, and wow factor in the form of a dramatic light show. Unfortunately, the elements just didn’t come together right.
The actors were all clearly talented, but somehow, instead of complementing each other, they created a muted, uninteresting whole. Dialogue was quick – in the beginning, actors even spoke over one another to imitate the chatter of a dinner party. I like the idea of doing this, but in the surreal situation the play proposed – a bunch of successful historical female figures at a dinner party – it severely impeded audience understanding. Though the dialogue was rapid, the accents were thick, and the body language was telling, there was just not enough charisma on stage to make it work. The characters didn’t have enough chemistry for the witty banter to feel anything but contrived. The attempts at creating a sense of chatter – the overlapping conversations of a dinner party, or the bustling of a workplace – echoed emptily across the stage.
The theme of the play was success, or rather, the pitfalls thereof. From the very beginning, a heavy negativity about the whole business was being hammered into the audience. Even in the scenes that were supposed to show the glittering façade of a successful lifestyle, it was deeply obvious that the core was rotten. Of course, the play is about that rotten core, but if the audience doesn’t have a moment to appreciate the benefits of success, the downside will not be as poignant. The lack of contrast or subtlety made the play start to feel long very early on.
The set was comprised of a series of white, modern-looking desks and chairs. In every scene they were moved into a different formation. While the white furniture was striking, the time it took to move off and on and across the stage was ridiculous. In an effort to make people moving furniture in synchronization seem entertaining, the light panels in the background flashed in time with electronic beats. Usually, this is the sort of thing I eat up –- hell, this is why I love the Segal. They always go the extra mile to dazzle the audience. In this case, however, apart from being long and boring, these transitions felt completely detached from the rest of the play. They severed whatever fragile suspension of disbelief the audience had built up. In a play that runs two and a half hours, having transitions that long is unnecessary and, for me, anyways, aggravating.
Unfortunately, Top Girls was the very definition of close, but no cigar.
Top Girls plays at the Segal Centre (5170 ch de la Cote St. Catherine) until May 18th. Check website (click HERE) for details. $24-49.