STAGE REVIEW

The Country Girl

Morgan Freeman, Peter Gallagher, ... | Frances McDormand, Morgan Freeman, Joe Roland, and Peter Gallagher
Image credit: Sara Krulwich
Frances McDormand, Morgan Freeman, Joe Roland, and Peter Gallagher

When, in the midst of a typically heated argument, Peter Gallagher's hotheaded director Bernie Dodd suddenly kisses Frances McDormand's dowdy Georgie Elgin, an audible gasp rolls through the Jacobs Theatre. It's not because she's married. Or because her drunkard husband, Frank (Morgan Freeman), is the star of Dodd's show. Or because they've just been trading insults (minutes earlier, he tossed out this whopper: ''Lady, you ride that man like a broom. You're a bitch!''). No — it's because there's absolutely no spark between these two fine actors, who banter beautifully but fail to generate any heat in The Country Girl. (Perhaps that's why, in revising Clifford Odets' 1950 script, playwright Jon Robin Baitz (late of ABC's Brothers & Sisters) felt the need to cut these lines from the final scene. Bernie to Georgie: ''Five weeks ago, I kissed a woman, a married woman; and now I love a woman, a married woman, and don't know where to turn.'' The believability factor.) Only slightly less passable as a couple are McDormand and Freeman, who seem more like a star and his mousy assistant — rather than a needy, narcissistic, on-his-last-legs actor and his selfless wife who's subverted everything (her dreams, her own femininity) in order to keep him functioning. Director Mike Nichols works with what seems like a very light hand — an extremely light hand — perhaps out of deference to his two Oscar winners and stage vet Gallagher (who's working extremely hard, yet has a wonderful natural ease with Odets' stylized dialogue — ''cookie'' this, ''darling'' that, you get the picture). If he could handle Spamalot's killer cows and farting Frenchmen, he could handle a couple of miscast movie stars. (Tickets: Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200) C-

Originally posted May 12, 2008
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