I have been reading about Top Girls in magazines for the past few months and then yesterday in the NYTimes. It is one of those plays I couldn’t decide whether or not if I should buy a ticket. Last night Fred and I went to see a MTC production ( we are members ) and I had no idea what we were seeing. We walked up to Biltmore and low and behold, we were seeing Top Girls. Guess I didn’t need to worry about buying the tickets after all.
Just as the NYTimes says, the first act is the best act. The play was written in 1982 so that is when it takes place, right around the beginnings of the Thatcher era in England. Marlene, who has just been promoted to managing director, throws a party for herself. She invites an interesting cast of characters. Pope Joan who ruled Rome and the Catholic religion until she got pregnant and everyone realized she wasn’t a man, Isabella Bird who is a British world traveler having been abused by her husband, Dull Grett a peasant warrior heavy on the peasant and the warrior, Lady Nijo, a concubine of the Japanese emperor who had a variety of children that were taken from her as she slept with the emperor and his pals, and Patient Grisdela who was a commoner that married a Prince who abused her as she smiled. This cast of characters, all from different centuries, get obliterated while they eat food and toss out their stories of male abuse as they climbed their way to the top.
The other two acts are not as intriguing. Act two shows Marlene as she is about to enter her role as the managing editor of a job placement agency. The women in the office interview possible candidates for the jobs that are open. What is interesting is how the job placement staff (all women) interview for each position telling each of the women candidates that men get these jobs or this is all they can expect. Funny considering they are women in decent positions themselves. At one point, a wife of another partner comes in the office and cries to Marlene about how her husband should have had her promotion. She continues on how hard it is for him to be working for a woman and he has a family and this is just awful obviously having no respect for how hard Marlene has worked to get where she is. Her view is that those jobs are for men, not women.
The last act sums up the role of Marlene in her family life. Her sister has stayed in the same town she came from, taking care of her mother and daughter (who happens to be Marlene’s although the girl doesn’t know it). Her sister is unhappy, her husband left three years ago, the child she is raising (which is Marlenes) is dimwitted. Come to think of it, everyone is unhappy. As Marlene says at her party in the first act, "Why are we all so miserable"? Yet, we are all supposedly so successful. That she doesn’t say but that is the underlying thought.
What exactly is Caryl Churchill trying to tell us? That being a woman is one sacrifice after another regardless of your success. You can’t do it all and be happy. You must sacrifice for any road that you decide to travel down? Regardless of the many questions need to be answered and discussed, the acting in Top Girls is brilliant. Marisa Tomei and Martha Plimpton are fantastic. They grab each of their characters with incredible gusto. Just keeping an English accent going every night for 2 1/2 hours is plenty. The level of acting and the first act is worth the price of the ticket alone.