Laura Pels Theatre
Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre
111 West 46th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 30, $99
Successful art historian and proud humanist Kristin Miller (Stockard Channing) makes no apologies for the choices she’s made in Alexi Kaye Campbell’s Apologia, which continues at the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through November 30. An ex-pat living in the English countryside, Kristin is an uncompromising feminist and atheist who gave up custody of her children in order to pursue her career in Europe. On a spring day in 2009, she is expecting company for dinner, including her son Peter (Hugh Dancy), his new girlfriend, Trudi (Talene Monahon), her other son, Simon (also Dancy), his girlfriend, Claire (Megalyn Echikunwoke), and Kristin’s longtime friend, Hugh (John Tillinger). As they arrive, serious religious and socioeconomic conversations ensue, and it quickly becomes clear that Kristin respects no one as much as she does her own opinion. “Still raping the Third World?” she asks Peter, who responds, “If helping local initiatives and infrastructure projects off the ground is considered rape then, yes, brutally.” When she learns that Trudi is a vegetarian and a faithful Christian who met Peter at a prayer meeting, she digs in her talons. “I believe in mystery, imagination, and the power of myth and metaphor. But not in outmoded patriarchal propaganda,” she declares. When Claire, an actress, announces that her contract on a television series has been extended, all are happy for her except Kristin, who is quick to insult the program. “It was a little vacuous. I kept asking myself, ‘Why do people watch this? And why do they make it?’” But when the subject turns to Kristin’s latest book, a memoir called Apologia, the tension ratchets up, since she failed to mention anything about her sons or her family in it. But she’s not about to apologize for that either, as is evident when she explains what the title means: “a formal, written defence of one’s opinions or conduct.”
Tony winner Channing (Other Desert Cities, Six Degrees of Separation) is passionate and unrelenting as Kristin, who was English in the original version. She manages to keep the selfish, smug, and snarky writer from becoming too villainous or a mere relic from a different time; you keep wanting Kristin to say or do the right thing even though she never does, instead insisting on exploiting her supposed moral and intellectual superiority over everyone. She’s also not afraid to be exactly who she is; when she is given a Nigerian mask as a birthday present, she doesn’t hide her distaste. And it’s more than just a plot device that her oven isn’t working so she won’t be able to make dinner, a typically motherly responsibility. Dancy (Venus in Fur, The Pride) excels as both sons, whose names reference one of Jesus’s disciples, Simon Peter. Tillinger, a director who was lured back to the stage by Channing for this production — they starred together in Peter Nichols’s Joe Egg on Broadway in 1985 — does his best with Hugh, a relatively thankless part that merely serves as comic relief; when he departs Dane Laffrey’s book- and art-heavy set, his character is not really missed. Three-time Obie-winning director Daniel Aukin (Bad Jews, Admissions) guides the actors through some familiar, clichéd territory that is too straightforward and borders on just the kind of drama Kristin argues that Claire acts in. “She’s a bloody nightmare,” Peter tells Trudi. “Opinionated, didactic, dictatorial.” But that doesn’t mean she isn’t bold, brave, and heroic in her own way.