Friday, March 24, 2023

Arizona Theatre Company Review: 'Pru Payne'

Powered by a watershed performance by TV and film star Mimi Kennedy, "Pru Payne" is an insightful and emotionally devastating look at a great mind being rapidly washed away by dementia.

Kennedy, who was a part of the original Broadway cast of "Grease" before appearing in TV series such as "Mom" and "Dharma & Greg," as well as films including "Erin Brockovich" and "Midnight in Paris," delivers a passionate and incisively observant performance in the title role. 

A globally renowned theater critic who finds herself in a rapid downward spiral as she tries to cobble together her memoir, Pru is bewildered, bubbling with anger and on the verge of depression as she loses her faculties. Kennedy's stunning command of the stage reverberates through the theater.

Gordon Clapp is nearly as impressive as Gus Cudahy, a  soft-spoken, blue-collar worker Pru meets in rehab who sparks a long-dimmed light within her. Clapp's magnetism and chemistry with Kennedy helps color the romance and make it seem real.

In the periphery are Pru's son, Thomas (Tristan Turner), Gus's son, Greg (Art Cudahy) and Dr. Dolan (Veronika Duerr).

Sean Daniels' direction of the tight, intense 90-minute drama  pulses with energy and creative stagecraft, with giant background slats that represent Pru's mental state lifting and lowering in time with her moments of lucidity and cloudiness.

Steven Drukman's script recalls "The Father" -- the 2020 film for which Anthony Hopkins won a best actor Oscar -- and is filled with clever references and acknowledgments, but perhaps stacked a bit too densely with showy nods for its own good. 

A dynamic and riveting experience, "Pru Payne" is a stunning experience to behold, as well as a priceless specimen of a powerful actress using her vast experience to approach the peak of her massive potential.

"Pru Payne" plays through March 25 in Tucson and March 30-April 16 in Phoenix. Buy tickets here.

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