BOTTOM LINE: It’s wordy and long and the subject matter seems less than current, but the production is great, the direction is interesting, and the cast is one of the best ensembles on Broadway. If you want to see it, do it now — Top Girls closes on Sunday!
In 1982 Caryl Churchill wrote a play about what it takes for a woman to achieve great professional success. Although it was performed professionally in London and off-Broadway in the States, it never made it to the Great White Way. But this year Manhattan Theatre Club included Top Girls in its season, the play’s first-ever Broadway production. In ’82 Top Girls was cutting edge in its poignancy and honest rhetoric on the issue of equality in the workplace; in 2008 it comes off as somewhat historic and outdated. How far we’ve come in 26 years.
Itâ€™s not that Top Girls is unrelatable. The play centers on Marlene, a British woman who has just been made managing director at the employment agency where she works. Told in three separate scenes with intermissions in between, the audience learns who Marlene is, how she achieved her success, and what she lost along the way. It seems that women canâ€™t be professionally successful and have families or loving relationships. We learn that Marlene has sacrificed everything to get where she is, and maybe doesnâ€™t regret her personal sacrifices anyway.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, there are still issues with gender equality in the workplace. Women still donâ€™t make as much money as men, and they often have to work harder to prove themselves. But the issues presented in Top Girls seem almost antiquated to what women encounter today. In 2008 it is possible for a woman to have both a family and a career; resources are available and society doesnâ€™t shun women who desire both. Also, there are many women CEOs and even heads of state. Hell, for a few months there it looked like we might even have a woman president!
Top Girls is an interesting look at the history of this issue, and Manhattan Theatre Club’s production, directed by James Macdonald, keeps the story line firmly set in 1982 intead of updating it to modern times. The play has a feminist air about it — strong women achieving great things and all — and my boyfriend, who saw it with me, requested that I only recommend it for â€œpeople with vaginas.â€ I think thatâ€™s somewhat accurate, though anyone with an interest in the subject matter would be intrigued.
Although Top Girls is well executed and incredibly well acted — Martha Plimpton is frigginâ€™ amazing — it doesnâ€™t resonate as completely as it should. Maybe itâ€™s that the specific subject matter doesn’t hold up 26 years down the road, or maybe itâ€™s because Churchillâ€™s script is wordy and somewhat tedious. You should know that Top Girls is not a passive or light experience; the audience has to work a little to stay with the story. But it does have its funny moments, and the acting is top-notch.
Top Girls plays at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47th St., but only for one more day — Sunday, June 29, at 8 PM. Visit mtc-nyc.org for ticket information, and check out more New York theatre reviews at theatreiseasy.com.