dames on stage

Last week I saw Carrie Fisher’s one-woman show Wishful Drinking, which opened on Broadway last night (I saw a preview). It was a thrill from the moment I saw her name on the placard outside: "The Company: Carrie Fisher."

My expectations were pretty high, simply because I’ve loved her for so long, but she exceeded them. The New York Times calls her wit "brut-dry," and I think that’s perfect. It’s so dry, it leaves you thirsty for more. She’s had a remarkable life, and she sees it clearly. I hope she continues to share the view with the rest of us.

(The Times has a clip of the show here.)

Wishful Drinking includes a riff about Fisher’s recent struggle with the mean things people say online, particularly about "fat" women. I got to thinking about this after the show (while walking the dog, which is always a good setting for analyzing pop culture. And poop culture, incidentally.). It seems to me that if the camera adds 10 pounds, the stage takes off 10 pounds — or, more accurately, it turns a blind eye, emphasizing mirth over girth and preferring substance to surface.

And that means I’ve had the privilege of seeing some phenomenal women onstage — women Hollywood deems too old, too fat, too whatever. Here are some of my recent favorites:

Janet McTeer

Even theater critics can’t help but remark on McTeer’s "unfeminine" features — they use adjectives like "strapping" to describe her, which of course just makes me think of "strapping" as a verb. Followed by a preposition. Anyway, she’s simultaneously beautiful and handsome, and I’m glad we get to witness that on stage (and occasionally in Emmy-winning miniseries). Her performance in Mary Stuart was breathtaking, especially when her character (the imprisoned should-be queen) tasted freedom and rain.

Stockard Channing

Channing played the MILF to end all MILFs in Pal Joey. The show itself wasn’t that great, but Channing oozed sex and wisdom — and she hasn’t been allowed to do that on film since The Business of Strangers.

Allison Janney

Yes, Hollywood still loves Janney, but mostly as a character actress. In 9 to 5, she was the undisputed star. Not too tall, not too old, and perfectly suited (suited! get it?) to run a corporation.

Tyne Daly

Well, I haven’t actually seen this one yet, but Daly is part of the rotating cast of Nora and Delia Ephron’s Love, Loss and What I Wore. I have been in love with her since 1982, and she’s getting more and more gorgeous by the year. In Love, Loss, she plays the same character at several different ages, from girlhood on up. Yet Grey’s Anatomy could only see her as a grandmother. Bah.

Martha Plimpton

Forget The Goonies — really, forget them. Plimpton would like you to banish that movie from your mind. She’s done so much since then, and she actually outshined the luminous Stockard Channing in Pal Joey (who knew she could sing that well?!). And a couple of months before that, she played both a mannish Pope Joan and a thwarted working-class adolescent in Top Girls. And again, what did she get to play on Grey’s Anatomy? A long-suffering mom. Please.

Dianne Wiest

She’s a bit of an exception in Hollywood — her plum role on In Treatment has earned her Emmy nods and much respect. But what’s the likelihood of her playing a sensual diva in a film or on TV? That’s what she did off-Broadway, in The Seagull. Sure, she wasn’t quite as good as the Olivier-winning Kristin Scott Thomas, but she was more than equal to the material, not to mention the star quality. The word "prime" comes to mind.

Patti LuPone

Remember LuPone in Life Goes On? Her life has gone on and on — to empyreal heights in Gypsy this past summer. It was so good, I saw it three times, and I’d see it three more if I could. The word "sexy" appeared in many reviews, and she channeled a kind of power and madness that’s rarely seen in female roles on screen. It was almost scary.

There are more where those came from, and I’m looking forward to others in the new Broadway season. And of course there are a few exceptions on film and on TV — Glenn and Meryl are the obvious ones — but it would be difficult to come up with a list like this. I think Carrie Fisher would agree that the stage is the true home of real women. Hollywood prefers sex dolls.

(The Princess Leia sex doll shows up in Wishful Drinking too. Of course!)

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2 Responses to “dames on stage”

  1. jfromp says:

    Ah, life’s rich pageant…never better than trotted out on stage.

  2. Vikki says:

    So many gorgeous and talented women!

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