Jonathan Tolins uses one of the characters in his cleverly insightful and brilliantly funny new play, The Forgotten Woman, to prove a point–lovers of opera face life head on. Tolins is clearly passionate about the art, which is obvious in the fact that Forgotten takes on the story of a gifted soprano on the verge of a major operatic career.
The play also has many beautifully written layers woven throughout the story that challenge his characters to take control of their own lives.
His enthusiasm for opera and writing makes for an exciting and poignant piece that is sure to touch everyone in important ways.
The Forgotten Woman’s aforementioned vocalist, Margaret Meier (Ashlie Atkinson), is nervous (read terrified) because her career is about to take off.
When a handsome entertainment writer (Darren Goldstein) visits her hotel room, he forces Margaret to question her life and the choices she has made to become opera’s next big thing.
Nothing is off the table: her less-than passionate marriage, her child, her ambition, her weight and the price she must pay in a commonly misunderstood business. Ultimately, Margaret must come to terms with her insecurities and self-doubt if she hopes to succeed in having a career and a family.
Atkinson brings warmth, sass and honesty to a role that epitomizes the experience of any plus-size woman, not just those that are ardent about having a career that keeps them in the spotlight. She is equally stunning whether its in fits of heart-wrenching desperation or heart-warming confidence.
Atkinson’s questioning of what her character is doing with her life are profound, thoughtful and nuanced, even when she is spewing profanities in moments of humor.
Goldstein’s Steve could be at the center of his own play (perhaps The Forgotten Man?). He ruminates on his career as an entertainment writer (as opposed to a critic), and what it means to cull personal information from artists to create intriguing stories.
Goldstein’s performance is intelligent and savvy, muted in all of the right places while making heated moments electrifying. His natural instincts challenge audiences to appreciate Steve’s motives, despite some questionable choices.
Supporting roles include manager Erick (Mark Junek), overbearing husband Rudolph (Robert Stanton), and bellhop Jordan (Justin Mark).
Steve, Erick and Rudolph serve to move the plot, but are essentially there to help develop Margaret’s character while aiding in her splendid arc.
Junek has a delightful stage presence, while Stanton is a bit hard to swallow as Margaret’s husband.
Tolins’ sensitivity and depth are effervescent in Forgotten.
What could easily have become a tired love story about an unconventional couple with secrets in their closet is instead a smart and complex piece celebrating a woman’s courage to believe in herself and her career.
The esteemed playwright, who also penned Buyer & Cellar, once again proves insightful about the dumbed-down moxie of the entertainment business (“Saying something is like a movie is the highest praise!”).
Noah Himmelstein’s direction is crafty and distinctive, especially in Margaret’s growing affection for Steve, and in the closing moments of both acts in the play.
Throughout a few scenes that are rife with niche monologue about opera, Himmelstein could easily have lost his audiences; however, he makes it interesting through guiding Junek’s delivery in an enticing fashion.
Jess Goldstein’s costumes are stunning. In fact, Atkinson’s final gown of the evening is so superb that it contends with her performance, threatening to steal the show.
Tim Mackabee’s hotel suite-set is brightly accented with royal blues and orange highlights, all nicely complemented by Atkinson’s auburn waves.
The Forgotten Woman applauds the woman that is forgotten (both metaphorically and literally) by a hypercritical, judgmental society, simultaneously refusing to forgo humor and hubris.
It reminds audiences that it is okay to be creative without a monetary outcome, and that many ways exist in which to find meaning in life–not just through finding love.
As astute as it is delightfully entertaining, this is one play that theatergoers won’t soon forget.
The play runs through June 19 at the Bay Street Theater, 1 Bay St. in Sag Harbor, NY. Corner of Bay Street and Main Street; Box Office Phone: 631-725-9500.