The Madness of Lady Bright | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Madness of Lady Bright 

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The Madness of Lady Bright, Playhouse, at Sheffield's Beer and Wine Garden. Nothing makes me despair more about our banal, exhausted, uninspired age than seeing the incredible new work that was created by young playwrights just a generation ago. Lanford Wilson wrote The Madness of Lady Bright when he was in his early 20s, yet this literate, moving 1964 work about "a screaming, preening queen rapidly losing a long kept 'beauty'" seems fresher and more alive than almost any new work I see produced these days--though Wilson does admit his play was wholly inspired by Adrienne Kennedy's 1962 play The Funnyhouse of the Negro.

Part of this production's power comes from Tim Sullens's superb performance as Leslie Bright. Dressed in a ratty robe and a translucent teal nightgown, he allows us to see (and feel for) the whole wounded, witty man--Wilson's characters are always witty, even when they're insane--behind the weepy, hallucinating, cross-dressing prostitute. And as directed by his wife, Carri Sullens, he never stumbles into either sentimentality or mincing stereotypes.

But even on the page Wilson's deft play springs to life, with its long, crazy, but fascinating soliloquies and its genre-stretching flashbacks. No wonder the 1964 production at the Caffe Cino was the first off-off-Broadway play to be reviewed by a New York daily. If we had a young playwright or two today with this kind of power, passion, and skill, my fears about the increasing irrelevance of American theater might vanish.

--Jack Helbig


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