Does Everyone Except Ben Brantley Hate ‘Top Girls’?

Photo: Joan Marcus

Ben Brantley's review of Top Girls this morning is a qualified rave — a thumbs-up, according to the helpful Brantley-simplifiers at DidHeLikeIt.com — and it makes us, if possible, even more excited for the show than we already were. But then we're rabid Caryl Churchill fans who have long lusted after a high-profile New York production of Top Girls, a play we consider one of the most fascinating of the past 50 years. Evidence elsewhere suggests that the show may be meeting a much more mixed reception on Broadway, where the audiences aren't always looking for, say, complex, time-shifting dramas with confusing theatrical conceits utilized in the service of a political message. Not to mention all that overlapping dialogue! Do audience members actually hate Top Girls?

Pre-opening chatter on Talkin' Broadway's All That Chat message boards has been wildly mixed, with many avid theatergoers raving about the show but many more declaring it a bore and reporting a flood of audience members fleeing the theater after the first act. And now an nytimes.com interactive feature lets angry audience members have their say. "This is the first production I've walked out on," says angry-looking MTC member Miles Price, who complains about the actresses' accents. Another audience member, who left during Act Two, complains about that overlapping dialogue, blaming it on the director (although it's written into the script). "What attracted me to the play was that Marisa Tomei was in it, and Martha Plimpton, who are two of my favorite actresses," says a third. "I couldn't even begin to fathom a good description of the play," she says. "I'm speechless."

There are a few dissenters; one guy calls it "interesting and thought-provoking," but notes that "not a lot of people got it." And it gets a rave from Elizabeth Dembrowsky of Jackson Heights — but she takes the time to point out that she "worked on an Off-Off-Broadway production" of Top Girls and that it's one of her favorite plays. So she's not exactly a representative Broadway audience member.

This is all anecdotal and not necessarily representative, of course. But Top Girls, even produced well, is not a play for everybody, and maybe not at all a play for Broadway — at least not Broadway in 2008, which favors the emotional and straightforward over the elliptical and cerebral. That Manhattan Theatre Club is producing it anyway is awesome, and we still can't wait to see it — but don't be surprised if you hear random people in restaurants complaining about the show for weeks to come.

Ladies Who Lunch? No, Here’s to the Power Players [NYT]
Untangling ‘Top Girls’ [NYT]

Related: Girls Town [NYM]